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Seasonal flu vaccine arrives early, vaccination encouraged

H1N1 influenza vaccine expected in October

While H1N1 influenza (swine flu) is currently in the headlines, every year in King County thousands of people get sick from seasonal influenza, also known as seasonal flu. Seasonal flu vaccine is starting to become available, and vaccination is the best way both to prevent getting sick and to lessen the severity of illness. Federal health officials expect that a separate vaccine to protect the H1N1 influenza will begin to be distributed in October.

“Getting a flu shot protects you, your family and your community against a highly contagious illness that causes preventable medical visits, inappropriate antibiotic treatments, hospitalizations and deaths every year,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of Communicable Disease and Immunizations, Public Health - Seattle & King County. “Both the seasonal flu and H1N1 strains are predicted to be circulating in the community this flu season, so it’s especially important that people who are recommended to receive each vaccine get protected. Getting the seasonal flu vaccine is the first step.”

“Now is the time to get vaccinated while supplies are plentiful and health-care providers’ offices and pharmacies are not as busy,” said Duchin.

Influenza, unlike the common cold, has a swift onset of symptoms beginning with two to seven days of fever, headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, runny nose and sore throat and a cough that is often severe and may last seven days or more. Influenza can also lead to serious bacterial pneumonia, including MRSA.

Who should get a seasonal flu vaccine?

Vaccination is recommended to protect people at high-risk for complications from the flu, including:

• Children aged 6 months until their 19th birthday

• Pregnant women

• People 50 years of age and older

• People, 6 months or older, with certain chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease (including asthma), kidney disease or diabetes

• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

People who live with or care for those at high risk for health complications from flu should be vaccinated, as well, including:

• Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu

• Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age, who are too young to be vaccinated

•Health-care workers

The vaccine is also available to anyone who wants vaccine to protect from the flu.

People at high risk for influenza-related complications may also need immunization against pneumococcal pneumonia. If you think you may need this vaccine, talk to your health-care provider.

Injectable flu vaccine and FluMist availability

In King County, flu shots are available now at many doctors’ offices and other providers, such as drugstores and pharmacies.

Some health-care providers and pharmacies may also have FluMist, the live-attenuated vaccine. Instead of getting an injection, a small amount of vaccine is sprayed into each nostril. FluMist is licensed for healthy non-pregnant people aged 2 through 49 years. The federal- and state-funded Vaccines for Children Program subsidizes the cost of children’s influenza vaccine at most health-care clinics.

Other ways to protect yourself from the flu

As always, healthy habits can limit the spread of contagious illnesses, including the flu: cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands often, avoid close contact with ill people and stay home from work, school and other public settings when ill. For more information on good health manners and educational materials, visit Public Health’s Stop Germs, Stay Healthy! webpage: www.kingcounty.gov/health/stopgerms.

For complete information about seasonal influenza, where to get a flu vaccine and costs, visit the Flu Season Web pages at www.kingcounty.gov/health/flu or call Public Health’s Information Line at 206-296-4949.

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