Influenza is making its annual appearance with cases already popping up on the Kenai Peninsula this season.
Central Peninsula Hospital Infection Preventionist Dana McDonald said the hospital has seen one positive lab-identified flu case as of last week, but other cases may have been diagnosed based on symptoms and other health care facilities may have seen cases.
The hospital began receiving vaccines in mid-September and McDonald recommends getting vaccinated as soon as possible with the typical flu season running from October to March.
CPH received the trivalent flu vaccine, which has three flu strains. According to the Center for Disease Control, the vaccine has two influenza A viruses, H1N1 and H3N2, and one influenza B 2012-like virus. There is also a quadrialent vaccine that has an additional influenza B 2008-like virus. CPH does not have the quadrialent vaccine.
Manufacturers project to produce 135 to 139 million doses of the trivalent vaccine and 30 to 32 million of the quadrialent vaccine for the 2013-2014 season. It takes six months to produce large vaccine quantities, according to the CDC.
Year-round surveillance is conducted to monitor which flu strains are circulating, how they’re spreading and how well vaccines are protecting people. Experts then decide which strains of the flu virus to include in the seasonal vaccine months in advance, but it is not possible to be certain which viruses will be prevalent each season. However, even if the prevalent strain isn’t included in the vaccine, the vaccines can provide protection against related viruses, according to the CDC.
Vaccines only last for a year because the viruses typically change, McDonald said.
It’s also hard to predict spikes in seasonal flu cases with the previous season in Alaska seeing a spike in December and the 2011-2012 season spiking in April. Both those high points saw between 400 and 500 cases, according to the Alaska Division of Public Health Section of Epidemiology’s website, www.epi.hss.state.ak.us.
The vaccines can be administered in two ways, a nasal spray which contains weakened live virus or a shot with inactive virus.
Getting vaccinated helps protect more than just the individual from becoming sick. The staff at CPH is “strongly encouraged” to get vaccinated, McDonald said.
“The more people that we can get vaccinated who don’t get sick, then we’re not obviously spreading it to others,” McDonald said. “That’s why it’s important that … if we’re around other people who are immune compromised or young children that could get sick, we’re not sick.”
About 270 people were vaccinated at CPH’s drive-thru flu clinic Oct. 10, which is fewer than previous years, McDonald said.
Even after vaccination, it’s possible to get sick if exposed to the virus because it takes two weeks before the vaccine takes effect, McDonald said.
She said getting vaccinated is the best tool to prevent getting sick, but she reminds people that hand washing and healthy living are also important.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.