It’s flu season and area health professionals are advising everyone to protect themselves and the people around them.
Veterans Affairs Medical Center, East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health, Mountain States and Wellmont health care systems, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department came together Tuesday to kick off a joint “Keep Flu Out” educational campaign.
Working together as the Mountain Empire Epidemiology Task Force, government health agencies, public health educators, VAMC, and the two local hospital systems will spend the next six months educating the public about the dangers of flu and encouraging everyone age 6 months and older to get the vaccine.
“Each year in the United States, 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu,” Dr. David Reagan, VAMC Chief of Staff, said. Over the past three decades approximately 200,000 people have been hospitalized and 3,000 to 49,000 have died each year as a result of influenza infection.
The best defense, the local experts said, is to take the seasonal flu vaccine and stay abreast of what is happening your community.
Dr. Stephen May, medical director for Sullivan County’s regional health department, said this year’s flu vaccine is engineered to protect against three prevalent strains, the H1NI influenza virus, the bug more commonly known as “swine flu” that hit global pandemic level in 2009, H3N2 and Influenza B.
While the vaccine is highly effective and unchanged from last year, May said it is very important for everyone to be revaccinated each year to assure protection.
Dr. Sue Cantrell, director of the Lenowisco district of the Virginia Department of Health, said the vaccine is available in four forms this flu season: the traditional flu shot administered into the arm muscle, the high dose vaccine introduced last year for people age 65 and older, a new inter-dermal shot that can administered under the skin with a smaller needle, and the “flu mist” nasal spray for children and adults 2 to 59 years old.
Cantrell said common “myths and misinformation” that circulate every year about the flu vaccine should not be taken to heart. “The vaccine is safe, effective and does not cause you to get the flu,” she said.
While flu infections do occur among those who receive vaccine, Cantrell said those infections are most often caused by viral strains not included in the yearly vaccination or exposure to a virus that occurred before the vaccine was received that had not yet developed into symptoms.
Cantrel said widespread flu infection from strains of the flu virus not included in the annual vaccine, like those that occurred in 2009, also occur “every so often,” making it important for everyone to stay abreast of what is happening around us as the flu season progresses through early spring.
While the vaccine is the most effective way to avoid the flu, Dr. David Kirschke, director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, recommended the following measures to better “protect yourself, your family and the people you love:”
n Frequent hand washing.
n Covering coughs with a tissue or a sleeve.
n Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
n Staying home when sick.
n Avoiding people who are sick.
n Maintaining good health by getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously and exercising.
While medications are available to lessen the severity and duration of a flu infection, Reagan advised, “Get the vaccine. It’s much better than relying on medicine and suffering through.”
“Following the recommended precautions is important to the people around you who are not as healthy as you are, Reagan said. “It’s something you hear every year. It’s really an issue every year. And its not something to take for granted.”