Signs of a 'typical' flu season ahead

His granddaughter will begin preschool in December and Joe Gallegos does not want to take a chance as she will be surrounded by more children — and more germs. Last Friday he took the 4-year-old to get the flu vaccine in Silverdale.

"We all got the flu vaccine last week and it's her turn," Gallegos said. "It's just a precaution."

And it's a precaution that health officials encourage all people to take part in. Although most in the health sector say this flu season is expected to be "typical" — unlike the swine flu pandemic two years ago — people are advised to get the flu vaccine, which comes in a shot or nasal spray.

At the Group Health Silverdale Medical Center, where Cecelia was vaccinated, a total of 5,150 flu vaccines have been distributed between the beginning of September and Nov. 4.

Susan Hensley, the department manager of the flu campaign at Group Health, said a few cases of influenza — commonly known as the flu — have been showing up in people who come to the urgent care unit and that so far more people are getting vaccinated.

"We seem to be getting more this year. We're ahead of where we were last year," Hensley said.

Cris Craig, a spokeswoman for the Kitsap County Health District, said last Friday that at this time there is no indication of anything other than a "normal" flu season. She said it shouldn't be any different from last year.

From May 2009 to January 2010 in Kitsap County, 44 people were hospitalized with confirmed flu and 33 of them were confirmed to have the 2009 H1N1 virus. There were also four deaths from the H1N1 virus, Craig added.

Between Jan. 3 to Nov. 4, there have been two hospitalizations with confirmed flu in the county with one of the individuals with the H1N1 virus. There have been no deaths related to the flu during this time period.

This year's flu vaccine includes the H1N1 strain in case the H1N1 starts circulating again, said Craig. It is important to get vaccinated even if an individual was vaccinated last season, she said.

"The immunity wears off so it's important for everyone to get vaccinated every flu season," said Craig.

Last year countywide Craig said 1,808 H1N1 vaccinations and 652 regular vaccinations were distributed. She said the health district expects to get about the same number or more this season.

Children younger than six months cannot get the flu vaccine and those who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs should not get the vaccination. Pregnant women, children younger than 5 years old, those 50 years and older, caregivers of infants and people who work in health care or nursing homes are highly encouraged to get the flu vaccine.

A special high does vaccine is also available for people ages 65 and older, said Michele Roberts with the Immunization and Child Profile Office of the state Department of Health. She said this is the second year of having Fluzone High-Dose and it is available since typically seniors' immune systems do not respond as well as younger people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending the high dose vaccine over the regular one for seniors so it is best for individuals to talk to their doctors, Roberts added.

While those 65 years and older have the option of getting the regular flu vaccine or the high dose one, there is no other option for children — however, their vaccine is at no cost to their parents.

The state Department of Health provides the flu vaccine to children 19 and under for free, said Roberts. Providers give the flu shot or mist to families with children at no cost however they may charge for an office visit or an administration fee, she said.

Last year the state ordered about 480,000 of the flu vaccine for children and this year ordered about 780,000, said Roberts. The additional doses insure that all those who want the vaccination for their children can get it, she said.

Symptoms of the flu can be any combination of having a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fatigue or headache. The flu is commonly spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing.

And, although all signs right now point to a "typical" flu season, people are encouraged to get a flu shot because things could always take a turn.

"So far it is typical. We usually see a peak in the new year. The one thing is that it is unpredictable," said Roberts.


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