Flu season has quickly arrived, and for Leslie Blood, a media studies professor at Fort Lewis College, she waisted no time getting inoculated this week.
“My husband is getting his, and he wanted me to get one too,” Blood said. “We have children, so we’re all getting flu shots.”
The Blood family is not alone. So far this season, the San Juan Basin Health Department has administered 71 flu shots at its office, said Flannery O’Neil, health planner and communications specialist with San Juan Basin Health Department. About 300 were given last year by the health department.
“Flu season is upon us, and it’s very important to get your flu shots,” O’Neil said.
For many people with insurance, flu shots fall under preventative care under the Affordable Care Act. For those without insurance, or who are underinsured, assistance is available.
“We have a nice network of locations for people to get vaccinated,” O’Neil said. Primary-care physicians are a great resource, as are employer-sponsored flu clinics.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, 60 million Americans are infected by influenza annually. About 200,000 flu victims will be hospitalized, and 3,000 to 49,000 people will die from influenza-related complications.
The flu is a reportable disease, meaning if people are hospitalized and get a positive result on a flu test, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will have it on record, said Lisa Miller, state epidemiologist.
“People getting hospitalized are just the tip of the iceberg,” Miller said. Also, she noted, 1,759 people were hospitalized in Colorado during the 2013-14 flu season, the most since 2009-10, which was a pandemic year. So far this year, there have been two reported cases of the flu in Colorado.
Flu season usually begins in October, peaking between January and February, before ending in late April or early May. Cool, dry air enables the flu to be transmitted more easily, hence flu season occurs in the winter, according to the Weather Channel website.
At Fort Lewis College Student Health Center, 200 shots have been given so far this year, with about 20 being given each day during flu clinics, said Rene Klotz, clinical director and family nurse practitioner at the center.
“Any immunization given is a success,” Klotz said. People are not necessarily “rushing” to get a flu shot, but she said students are “pretty receptive” when the idea of getting one is suggested.
The flu vaccination is “the best protection against flu and its complications,” according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. This year’s vaccine is designed to protect against Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A subtype (H3N2) and Influenza B.
“A lot of people are afraid to get a flu shot because they are afraid of getting the flu,” said Keri McDuffie, immunization and communicable disease nurse at San Juan Basin Heath Department.
Usually, people who get sick after receiving a flu shot were already exposed to those pathogens before they could build immunity, which takes between two and three weeks.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, the flu is contracted through inhalation of contaminated air droplets, or by touching a contaminated surface. Complications caused by the flu include bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. Pneumonia is the most common and most serious complication.
McDuffie said hand washing, covering a cough with your arm, disinfecting surfaces, and staying home when sick are all great ways to avoid spreading the virus.
“Hand washing goes a long way,” McDuffie said.
Practicing good health choices in general, such as getting enough sleep, eating well and staying active, also help, Klotz said.
Although the flu is “unpredictable,” Miller encourages people to get vaccinations, regardless of the method. Flu vaccinations are available in shot form, as well as a nasal spray.
“Now is the time to get vaccinated,” she said. “We will see more flu this year.”