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Getting ahead of the flu

Lisa Humphrey, RN, gives a hepatitis B vaccination shot to an SNMH employee.

Lisa Humphrey, RN, gives a hepatitis B vaccination shot to an SNMH employee.

With the onset of flu season, Nevada County Public Health Department recommends that community members six months and older receive the flu vaccine this season, particularly those who are medically vulnerable.

“Flu shots are the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu,” said Charlene Weiss-Wenzl, RN, PHN, Nevada County Immunization Coordinator. “Getting the shot can prevent illness, reduce the effects of an illness if one is infected, help reduce missed work and school, and prevent flu-related hospitalizations, or possibly even death.”

She suggests that for the best coverage, flu shots be administered by the end of October.

Though most people who get the flu will recover in several days to two weeks, avoidable complications can arise, including upper and lower respiratory infections, pneumonia, and sinus and ear infections. The flu can also make some chronic medical problems worse.

For this reason, Tracy Adams, Infection Preventionist at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, strongly encourages those who are medically vulnerable, to get vaccinated.

Those at higher risk include anyone who suffers from cardiovascular or pulmonary disease or who currently has diabetes or immune suppression through HIV or cancer.

Additionally, pregnant women and caregivers of children under five or the elderly are encouraged to receive a vaccination.

“It’s always a good idea to get vaccinated, because anyone can have severe complications from the flu,” Adams said.

Flu activity varies from year to year, and so it can be difficult to predict. However, a lot of time and effort goes into developing an effective vaccine each year.

Since flu viruses are constantly changing, the vaccine composition is reviewed each year by the Centers for Disease Control and updated as needed.

The variables that are taken into account include which influenza viruses are making people ill, the extent to which those viruses are spreading, and how effective the previous vaccines were against those viruses.

This year, the vaccine will protect against the four strains of flu virus that researchers believe are the most likely to hit the U.S.

Flumist nasal spray will not be available this year because researchers determined the injectable vaccine was more effective.

In addition to the vaccine, there are other ways to prevent the spread the flu.

Adams encourages individuals to wash their hands often with soap and water and to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.

If possible, avoid exposure to people who are sick, and if you become ill, stay home from work, school or other activities for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to get medical attention.

Of course, common sense can help, too. Be sure to cover the nose and mouth with a tissue if you cough or sneeze, and discard the tissue after each use.

“Keep hand sanitizer in your purse or car to use after shopping, handling money, pumping gas, or any other public activity,” Adams suggests.

The Nevada County Public Health Department offers several opportunities to get flu shots.

On Friday, Oct. 21, the county will host their annual Drive-Thru Flu Clinic from 12-4 p.m. at Twin Cities Church, located at 11726 Rough and Ready Highway in Grass Valley.

Additionally, flu shots are offered during regularly scheduled clinic hours at the Health Department located at at 500 Crown Point Circle; they will be extending hours to accommodate additional patients. Every second, third and fourth Thursday, excluding holidays, flu shots are offered from 10 a.m.-noon and from 1-4 p.m.

Weiss-Wenzl noted that the second and fourth Thursdays are designated as children’s clinics, so wait times may be longer.

Many pharmacies and drug stores offer the flu vaccine, as well. Wherever you decide to get your vaccination, Adams said the important thing is that you get it.

“The best way to prevent harmful complications is to not get the flu in the first place,” she said.

For more information, call Nevada County’s Immunization Program at 530-265-7265.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.