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Health providers prepare for flu season

Health providers prepare for coming flu season

Posted: September 27, 2012 - 8:55pm  |  Updated: September 27, 2012 - 9:01pm

As Kenai Peninsula residents batten down the hatches in preparation for winter, many may be thinking about the upcoming flu season, but so far there are no confirmed cases of seasonal influenza in the Gulf Coast region of the state.

However, that doesn’t mean residents should expect anything less than usual, or forgo annual vaccines, officials said.

The local Department of Health and Social Services office tested about 60 specimens, but none returned positive as the various flu viruses, said Yvette Barrows, nurse manger at Kenai Public Health Center.

Kenai Peninsula’s health providers have started to receive this year’s flu vaccines. Allowing time for the production of antibodies is important to curtailing influenza. HHS recommends getting vaccinated before the onset of influenza activity in the community.

Flu season generally starts between February and March, Barrows said.

The health center has received three types of vaccines, and Central Peninsula Hospital has received two types of vaccines. They are preparing for a worst-case scenario despite last year’s mild flu season.

During the 2011-2012 flu season, sporadic influenza activity in Alaska occurred throughout early winter, with an increased number of lab-confirmed cases in March. The activity was widespread from April through the last week of May. The state mirrored the national trend with influenza A — the 2009 H1N1 and H1N3 viruses — prevalent early in the season and influenza B activity increasing later in the season, according to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology.

The Center for Disease Control received 34 reports of influenza-associated pediatric deaths for the United States while SOE received no reports. This is the lowest number of such deaths reported nationally since record keeping began in the 2004-2005 flu season, according to the CDC.

There are no substantive changes to existing vaccination recommendations for the upcoming flu season.

“The flu is hard to predict,” Barrows said. “We’re encouraging vaccination and other precautions, like hand-washing, keeping surfaces cleans, covering coughing — the normal stuff.

“We had such a mild flu outbreak last year. Maybe people are getting better at doing those things.”

The health center received FluMist and Fluzone, as well as a multi-dose vaccine. Those vaccines are state-supplied and recommended for children 18 and under. The health center expects to receive adult vaccinations in late October or early November.

Adults can use FluMist, however, as the recommended age group is 2-49 years. The spray, which is squirted up the nose, is popular among kids but not adults. The vaccine causes mild congestion.

Fluzone is recommended for children 6-35 months old. This vaccine comes in preservative-free, pre-filled syringes.

HHS provides vaccines to uninsured and under-insured individuals, Barrows said. It also works with health care providers to distribute important information and changes in vaccination recommendations.

Companies with numerous caretakers have multiple options for vaccinating their staffs. Local pharmacies carry this year’s approved vaccines, too.

The Center for Disease Control recommends people living with, or caring for others who are at high risk for developing health complications from the flu, such as children and the elderly, get vaccinated this season. This also includes caregivers of people with asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

CPH is well-stocked with vaccinations for patients, volunteers and staff, said Camille Sorenson, the hospital’s marketing director. The hospital encourages vaccination to its staff, but vaccination is not a requirement.

“We encourage it as much as possible,” Sorenson said.

Fluzone Intradermal is available at the hospital. This vaccine’s recommended age group is 18-64 years. Fluzone prefilled syringes with dosages recommended for anyone older than 36 months are also available.

CPH is holding its annual drive-thru flu clinic on Oct. 10 from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free vaccinations will be available for residents who are 18 and older. The clinic is first come, first serve.

Flu shots will be administered at the hospital’s parking garage, and residents are asked to enter from Fireweed Street.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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