Mary Walker launches preemptive strike on flu

The flu season is just around the corner as students get further into academic overload; a perfect time for college students (and anyone for that matter) to get a flu shot.

“The Center for Disease Control recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease,” said Elizabeth Burns, assistant director of health services at Mary Walker Health Center.

“Individuals in a shared community, such as a college campus are at risk due to communal living and attending classes together,” Burns said.

People who have weaker immune systems from disease or medication, or have a chronic disease, are strongly recommended to acquire the shot.

“Pregnant women are at risk for complications related to influenza,” Burns said. “These individuals need to discuss whether they should receive flu vaccine with their OB/GYN provider.”

Burns added that there are people who should not get the flu shot.

“If you’ve had an allergic reaction to flu vaccines in the past, are allergic to eggs or chickens, or if you have a current fever or have developed Guillian-Barre syndrome,” she said.

According to Burns, Guillian-Barre syndrome is a rare, serious autoimmune disease of the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.

Diane Oldenburg, senior public health educator of the Oswego County Clinic, said the reason those who are allergic to eggs or chickens should not obtain the vaccine.

“The vaccine is grown in eggs and it would be very severe if the protein from the egg were to get inside the person.”

Because there is no other source of vaccine at the time that has not been grown in eggs, Oldenburg said that just the basics like washing hands, staying home when sick, resting, exercising and eating right can help prevent the flu.

Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish (having chills), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

“It’s also important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever,” Burns said.

Burns said that first flu clinic was held on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. The clinics take place at Mary Walker Health Center. Flu clinics are free for students and $30 for staff.

The Oswego County Health Department started giving the vaccines to adults. The health department has walk-ins Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

People with Medicare or Medicaid who bring in their cards will not have to pay out of pocket.

According to Burns, during the 2010-11 school year, Mary Walker Health Center gave 800 doses of the influenza vaccine.

“This year we have 800 doses to give and have already dispensed 485 doses,” she said.

Oldenburg could not give an exact number stating how many shots have been distributed since last year.

“It’s down a bit from last year,” Oldenburg said. “We had a great supply of it last year, so people could get it from a variety of place like pharmacies who could now distribute them.”

Oldenburg said that some people can be hesitant and have misconceptions on getting the flu shot.

Mild problems can occur from the shot including soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. Also, hoarseness, sore throat, itchy eyes, cough, fever, aches, headache, itching and fatigue can also occur.

“If these problems occur they usually begin soon after the shot and last one to two days,” Burns said.

“Per CDC, flu season is unpredictable in a number of ways,” Burns said. “Although epidemics of flu happen every year, the timing, severity and length of the epidemic depends on many factors, including what influenza viruses are spreading and whether they match the viruses in the vaccine.”

According to CDC’s website, the influenza vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective against the flu.

“This is dependent on the match of viruses from last year to the present year,” Burns said.

To make people aware of the approaching flu season, Burns said there has been advertising assistance from Lifestyles, WTOP, campus signage and the Mary Walker Center website: Oldenburg said they too have started advertising on the county website and their Facebook page.

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