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Health officials say: ‘It’s not too late to get the flu shot’

January 14, 2013

TACOMA, WA - The Puget Sound area, the state and nation are seeing the earliest arrival of flu season since 2003. The number of people coming down with the flu continues to rise and two Pierce County residents have died of the flu so far this year. But the steps to prevent the onset and spread of flu remain the same. The most important step is to get the flu shot.

“Vaccination is the best thing people can do to protect themselves and their families,” said Nigel Turner, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s communicable disease division director. “While we recommend that people get the flu shot as early as possible, you can get a flu shot throughout the season. This simple step not only protects you from the flu, but it helps to protect vulnerable people in our community such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals,” he said.

It’s also important to get the flu shot annually. Each year, the formulation of the shot uses the three flu viruses that are expected to circulate that season. This season’s vaccine includes protection against two new viruses that are different from last season’s flu vaccine.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, if you get vaccinated with this season’s flu vaccine, you are about 62 percent less likely to need to go to the doctor to get treated for the flu. “This translates into a couple of things,” said Turner. “With the protection of the flu shot, you may not get sick, and if you do get sick, your symptoms will likely be less severe,” he said.

The health department publishes an extensive calendar of free and low-cost vaccination clinic opportunities for children as well as links to providers of free or low-cost flu shot providers for adults on its web site at www.tpchd.org/flu. In addition, the department regularly partners with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Immunization Services and the Franciscan Health System to offer free vaccination clinics for children. Since fall of 2012, the health department has distributed 63,000 doses of children’s flu vaccine to community providers. Of these, more than 43,000 have been administered so far.

The next free flu vaccination clinic is this Wednesday, Jan. 16, from 5-7 p.m., at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Auditorium, 3629 S. D St. Children 6 months to 18 years old and uninsured adults 18 to 64 years old will be able to receive a free flu shot. The clinic will be offered in partnership with MultiCare Children’s Hospital Immunization Services and supported by the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps.

In addition to getting the flu shot, other steps you can take to prevent or reduce the spread of the influenza virus include:

  • Wash your hands - Frequent and proper hand washing is one the most effective ways to reduce the spread of germs. Wash with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t easily accessible.
  • If you’re sick, stay home - Viruses such as the flu spread quickly. Don’t share your germs with coworkers and classmates.
  • Cover your cough - Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand, to cover your cough.
  • Keep it clean - Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephone handsets, computer key boards and mice, and other surfaces that you frequently touch.

Health officials say that it’s impossible to predict the severity of any flu season, but the season usually begins in October and lasts through the end of April. In the Northwest, the flu typically begins to circulate in December and peak activity usually occurs between late January and March. Last year, flu activity did not peak until April.

Unlike pertussis, medical providers aren’t required to report cases of flu to the Health Department, so the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department monitors influenza activity through laboratory data, hospital emergency room and urgent care information, school absenteeism and other health surveillance methods.

For more information on the flu, to download an FAQ on the flu shot, and find free and low cost flu shot providers, visit www.tpchd.org/flu.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at www.tpchd.org.

Editor’s Note: To get surveillance information on Pierce County, state and national influenza trends that is updated weekly, visit www.tpchd.org/providers-partners/influenza-medical-providers and click on “Pierce County Influenza Update.” For more information call Edie Jeffers at (253) 798-2853 or (253) 405-6822 (cell).

Contacts:
Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager, (253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822, ejeffers@tpchd.org

Nigel Turner, Communicable Disease Division Director, (253) 798-6057, niturner@tpchd.org

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