Whatcom, state health officials: Don't wait to get a flu shot

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 19, 2013 

FLU SHOT

Pharmacy manager Lap Nguyen administers a flu shot at Lakeway Fred Meyer in Bellingham in this file photo.

FILE — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

On the outer edge of the flu season, public health officials are reminding people to get vaccinated.

As in years past, this season's vaccine will protect against three strains - two flu A viruses and one flu B virus. New this year is a vaccine that will protect against four strains - two A viruses and two B viruses.

Of the 135 million to 139 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2013-2014 season, an estimated 30 to 32 million doses will be available as quadrivalent flu vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu usually occurs in the U.S. in fall and winter, generally peaking in February.

The annual vaccine protects against the strains that health officials expect to be circulating that particular season.

"Vaccine is here. Everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated," said Michelle Harper, health educator at the Washington state Department of Health.

Public health officials aren't recommending one flu vaccine over the other.

"The message is if vaccine is available, get it," said Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer. "We think it's best that people get covered now, not wait until later in the season or until it (flu) gets active in the community."

The federal Healthy People 2020 goal for flu vaccination coverage is 80 percent or more, according to the Washington state Department of Health.

About 47 percent of people in Washington state were vaccinated against flu last season - compared to 45 percent nationally.

The state rate was up 6 percent from the 2011-12 flu season.

Vaccine is available from many health care providers, including pharmacies. There are more vaccine options this year, public health officials said.

People can get a flu shot or nasal spray. Some will protect against four different strains of flu virus, and this type is found in all nasal sprays and some shots.

An egg-free version is available for those with allergies. People also can ask for one vaccine that uses a smaller needle than the typical flu shot, the state Department of Health said.

Flu seasons are unpredictable, Harper said, and there's no way to tell how severe it will be.

But what is known is that people can, and do, get very sick, she added, even the healthy ones.

WHAT TO DO

Get vaccinated: It's the best protection against the flu. The vaccine is recommended for those 6 months and older.

Find the vaccine: Call your doctor or go online to whatcomcounty.us/health/flu and click on "Seasonal Flu Vaccine Availability" on the left. The list is updated weekly on Fridays. Or use the "Flu Vaccine Finder" at flu.gov.

Other steps: Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Avoid touching your face and eyes. Cover your cough. Stay home from work and school if you're sick. Stay away from those who are ill.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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