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Swine flu vaccine coming, but not recommended for all

With two strains of flu flying around, this could be one of, if not the worst flu seasons Kitsap County has ever seen and local health officials are urging residents to get educated about vaccination recommendations.

“More than 36,000 people die each year from influenza,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, director of Kitsap County Health District.

According to Lindquist, anyone who wishes to reduce their chance of getting seasonal flu can get a seasonal influenza vaccine, but the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends people who are at high risk of having serious seasonal flu-related complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious seasonal flu-related complications get vaccinated each year.

During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP recommends prioritizing groups for vaccination. While there is no shortage of 2009 H1N1 vaccine expected, vaccine availability and demand can be unpredictable and there is some possibility that, initially, the vaccine will be available in limited quantities, according to ACIP.

People who should get the seasonal vaccine each year are children ages 6 months to 19; pregnant women; people 50 years of age and older; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions; people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including healthcare workers; household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu; and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children younger than 6 months.

The latest strain, H1N1, brings new challenges and separate vaccination recommendations from ACIP, according to Lindquist.

“The big issue is that people will not have developed an immunity to H1N1,” he said. “Our goal at the health district is to prevent the spread of sickness. We highly recommend vaccination.”

There are people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician, according to ACIP. These include people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination, people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine, children younger than 6 months, people who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever and those 65 and older.

Those who should be vaccinated against H1N1 include pregnant women because they are at higher risk of complications and can potentially provide protection to infants who cannot be vaccinated; household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months because younger infants are at higher risk of influenza-related complications and cannot be vaccinated; healthcare and emergency medical services personnel because infections among healthcare workers have been reported and this can be a potential source of infection for vulnerable patients; all people from 6 months through 24 years of age and persons ages 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

The vaccine is highly recommended for children from 6 months through 18 years of age because cases of 2009 H1N1 influenza have been seen in children who are in close contact with each other in school and day care settings, which increases the likelihood of disease spread. Also, cases of 2009 H1N1 influenza have been seen in young adults 19 through 24 years of age because many often live, work and study in close proximity, and they are a frequently mobile population. Vaccination of those in close contact with infants younger than 6 months might help protect infants by “cocooning” them from the virus.

More information will be available at two community meetings scheduled next week, by calling the health district at (360) 337-5235 or on their Web site at www.kitsapcountyhealth.com.

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