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Roll up your sleeve; flu season’s coming
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People over the age of 65 account for six out of 10 flu-related hospital stays each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu vaccinations and good health habits, such as sneezing in a tissue, are the best ways to prevent getting sick and spreading your illness.
Health officials say the most important thing people can do to protect themselves from influenza is an annual flu vaccination.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.

Maggie Hall, spokesperson for the Pinellas County Health Department, said there hasn’t been an uptick in flu activity yet.

“But it surely will increase as we get closer to the holiday,” she said.

It is important to get a flu vaccine annually because each year’s vaccine protects against the strains that are circulating, Hall said.

“So having had a vaccine last year won’t protect you this year,” she said. “Because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide immunity, it’s a good idea to have your flu shot now before it’s time for holiday parties and family dinners.”

Hall said there are actually two best practices to help avoid getting sick.

“The best ways to prevent getting the flu are to get your annual flu shot and to practice good health habits that include thoroughly washing your hands and coughing or sneezing into your elbow, not your hands,” she said.

The Florida Department of Health has joined the National Council on Aging’s Flu + You campaign aimed at educating adults age 65 and older about the seriousness of the flu and the need for annual vaccination.

“Older adults are an important part of the Florida community and making sure they stay healthy this and every flu season is a top priority,” state officials say. “No matter how healthy or youthful we feel, as we age, our immune system weakens, leaving people 65 and older more vulnerable to influenza.”

Nine out of 10 flu-related deaths in the United States each year are people 65 and older. People over the age of 65 account for six out of 10 flu-related hospital stays each year.

“Influenza is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that can cause severe complications,” state health authorities say.

Two vaccine options are available for people over 65 – the traditional flu shot and a higher dose shot designed specifically to address age-related decline of the immune system.

The higher dose flu shot causes the body’s immune system to produce more antibodies against the flu virus. Antibodies in the immune system help protect against infection when exposed to the virus.

The CDC highly recommends that people with certain medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease get a flu vaccination as soon as it becomes available each year. Pregnant women also are strongly advised to take the shot, as well as people who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications.

Hall said the regular flu vaccine as well as the high-dose version for seniors is available at all five county health centers. The Clearwater Center currently is closed for renovations and is expected to reopen in early 2013.

Locations include:

- Tarpon Springs, 301 S. Disston Ave., Tarpon Springs. Call 942-5457

- Largo, 8751 Ulmerton Road. Call 524-4410

- Largo, 12420 130th Ave. N. Call 588-4040

- Pinellas Park, 6350 76th Ave. N. Call 547-7780

- St. Petersburg, 205 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N. Call 824-6900

Hall said residents covered by the county’s Medical Home Program receive the shots as part of their care.

The fee for the regular vaccine is $25 and $40 for the high-dose version. Children’s vaccines are provided at no charge. Hall advised adults to check with their insurance provider regarding their coverage.

“There are lots of places to get the vaccine, including your doctor’s office, drugstores and special community events,” Hall said.

The CDC says that the timing of flu is unpredictable and varies from season to season. Activity usually peaks in January or February. Seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to May. CDC statistics show that the 2011-2012 season started late and was relatively mild compared to previous seasons.

Manufacturers estimate they will produce between 146 million and 149 million doses of flu vaccine for the 2012-2013 season. During 2011-2012, 132.8 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed in the United States.

The CDC says this year’s vaccines are designed to protect against three influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common. Three kinds of influenza viruses commonly circulate among people today: influenza B viruses, influenza A (H1N1) viruses, and influenza A (H3N2) viruses. Each year, one flu virus of each kind is used to produce seasonal influenza vaccine.

“For everyone, getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against influenza throughout flu season,” the CDC says. “It’s important to get a flu vaccine every year, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.”
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