Flu shots catch on late

Officials push vaccines to combat influenza’s spread

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2007

The influenza season appears to be arriving a little late, but there’s still time to get that flu shot and ward it off, says the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

In a press release Friday, the department reported that the Section of Epidemiology received dozens of new positive rapid influenza reports Thursday.

The good news, the department said, is that vaccination will still work. A shot now would need about two weeks to take effect, but protection would last about a year.

“Although influenza activity has been low so far this year, we have seen a great increase in reported cases over the past week,” said Dr. Jay Butler, director of public health. “Sometimes the flu season just starts a little late. We are not out of the woods yet. There could be a lot of flu in Alaska over the next two or three months, and it is not too late to get a flu shot.”

People who normally get vaccinated but who have put off doing so on behalf of those at higher risk should now request a shot while supplies last, the department said. Officials also recommended that health care workers and others who live with or care for more vulnerable people, such as infants, the elderly or people with chronic diseases, get vaccinated.

Vaccine availability may vary around the state.

In an interview Friday, Greg Wilkinson, public information officer for the Division of Public Health, said there were about 12,000 vaccine doses available statewide. About 8,000 of those are in a warehouse in Anchorage if local supplies run out.

There were 350 doses on hand in Kenai and 214 available in Homer. No figures were available for Soldotna or Seward, Wilkinson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Georgia, influenza activity continues to increase in the United States.

In the period from Feb. 11 through Feb. 17, 24 states reported widespread influenza activity. That included Alaska. Fourteen more states and New York City reported regional flu activity. The others reported either local or sporadic activity. The percent of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza remained below baseline levels, however, according to the CDC Web site.

Last fall there was great public concern about the advent of bird flu and that it might arrive here in migrating birds. So far there have been no reported cases in Alaska or in the wider United States. Nevertheless, the concern remains.

“We are monitoring it locally and worldwide,”Wilkinson said, adding that getting a regular flu shot may reduce the impact for anyone contracting bird flu.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.

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