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Experts: Despite 2011's mild season, flu shots remain vital

By Sarah Thomas and Angela Ward;
Oct. 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Health officials are warning against skipping this year's flu shot, saying some people might look at this past year's mild season as an indicator of things to come.

"We certainly don't want people to become complacent because of last year's mild season," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Skinner said one flu season's numbers has no effect on the following season's severity.

"There is no rhyme or reason to when, where or how bad flu will hit," he said.

And because flu season is unpredictable, Skinner said the CDC cannot map out the virus' impact or severity for any given year.

"We know for sure we are going to have a flu season, and we know that a vaccine is the single most effective thing people can do to protect themselves," Skinner said.

Skinner said other factors include which viruses are circulating, how many people received flu shots and sometimes weather conditions.

However, flu activity monitored during a 35-year period shows January and February are peak months for the virus.

The CDC monitored flu activity from the 1976-77 season to the 2010-11 season and found 46 percent of the time, February was the most active.

During a typical flu season, 5 to 20 percent of the population gets sick.

"Anyone can get the flu. But young children, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are where we generally see the flu take a bigger toll," Skinner said.

The 2011-12 season set a record for the lowest and shortest peak of influenza illness.

The CDC also tracks flu-related illnesses such as pneumonia, determines which viruses are circulating and detects changes in the virus, which could affect the vaccine's effectiveness.

To combat a potential flu outbreak in area children, Gregg County health officials will begin offering free flu vaccines to children ages 6 months to 18 years old.

"We'll begin with a Saturday clinic, from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 20," said Bettie Clark, a nurse with the clinic. "After that, the shots will be available during our normal hours, 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday."

The clinic is at 405 E. Marshall Ave. Children must be uninsured or have insurance which does not cover vaccinations to receive the shots.

They must be residents of Texas, but not necessarily of Gregg County. Appointments are not required.

Clark said the health department does not provide flu shots for adults.

She said many local pharmacies and walk-in clinics offer flu shots for adults at relatively low prices.

"If adults call here seeking flu vaccines for themselves, we try to help them find a place where they can get the shots, but we only offer them for children," Clark said.

While it is generally recommended most children get a flu shot, Clark said children who are allergic to eggs should not receive them.

"There may be certain other medical conditions that would preclude children getting the vaccine," Clark said.

"We have the parents fill out a health questionnaire and go over it with them before administering the shots, just as we do with all our vaccines."

The vaccination can cost anywhere from $25 to $40 at area pharmacies and is free for anyone enrolled in Medicare.



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