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Flu shots available for everyone this year
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Map courtesy of CDC
According to a map on the CDC Web site, 13 states, including Florida, are reporting sporadic flu activity, which information says is typical for this time of year.
PINELLAS COUNTY - Prevention is the best way to avoid getting the flu, according to the experts, and the flu shot is the recommended prevention method.

No shortages of the vaccine are preventing people from getting a flu shot if they want one this year, according to Pamela Page-Bellis, marketing coordinator for the Pinellas County Health Department.

However, because of last year's shortage, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people at highest risk should get the shots before the rest of the public or through the end of October. The county's health department followed that recommendation.

"It is always a priority for us to want to reach people who are at the highest risk of complications from influenza and get them vaccinated," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "Those efforts should continue, but we also recognize that many health care providers have enough vaccine to expand their efforts, and overall, more vaccine is becoming available weekly."

According to a map found on the CDC Web site, 13 states, including Florida, are reporting sporadic flu activity, which information says is typical for this time of year. Influenza peeks most often in January and February so the coming weeks on into December afford excellent opportunities for vaccination, according to the CDC.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. CDC officials recommend the flu vaccination as the best way to prevent the illness.

CDC statistics show that every year in the United States, on average, five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications. About 36,000 people die because of the illness.

Two types of flu vaccine are available - the flu shot and a nasal-spray.

The shot, which contains a killed virus, is best for use in people older than 6 months, healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.

The nasal-spray, made from live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu, can be given to healthy people ages 5 to 49. It is not recommended for pregnant women.

About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against influenza virus infection develop in the body, providing some degree of protection against the illness, according to CDC information.

The CDC recommends vaccinations for anyone who wants to reduce the chance of getting the flu.

The CDC highly recommends people in high-risk categories get the vaccination, including those over the age of 65, children ages 6 months to 23 months, people living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, people with chronic medical conditions or those with a weakened immune system, pregnant women, health care professionals with direct patient contact, and people who care for children less than 6 months of age.

People who are unsure of their risk from the illness should talk to a health care provider, CDC officials said.

Some people should not get a flu vaccination without talking to a doctor first, including people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have experienced problems with flu shots in the past and children under the age of 6 months.

Side effects from the shot include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever and aches, which usually last one to two days.

Side effects from the nasal spray include runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, and, in adults, sore throat and cough.

As of Nov. 1, the county's health department is giving shots to anyone who requests one.

Pinellas County Health Department offices are located in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Largo and Tarpon Springs. Flu shots are given on a walk-in basis from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. On Wednesdays, the schedule is 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The fee for a flu shot is $25 and the pneumococcal (pneumonia) shot is $34. The Pinellas County Health Department will bill Medicare for the cost of the immunization for those who have Medicare Part B non-HMO.

People also can get flu shots through their physician and other locations. The American Lung Association has a Flu Clinic Locator Web site, at www.f­lucli­niclo­cator­.org. People visiting the site can put their zip code in the search box to get a list of clinics close to their home.

Gerberding noted that not all health-care providers have received their influenza vaccine, but are expecting to be receiving it in the coming weeks. These localized shortages are the result of distribution anomalies that are expected to be resolved soon.

"In those situations, we ask people to check with their doctor first to make sure they have a supply," said Gerberding. "We're early into the time when people should get flu vaccinations and many doctors will be receiving vaccine shortly. Millions of more doses of vaccine are on the way, and November and December are also fine when it comes to getting your flu vaccination."

The flu spreads person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. According to the CDC, most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick.

"That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick," CDC officials said.

In addition to vaccination, following a few simple steps can reduce the risk of contracting respiratory infections:

- Clean hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleanser.

- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.

- Stay home when sick and keep sick children home.

- Avoid close contact with people who are ill, if possible.

- Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items.

- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Call the Pinellas County Health Department at 824-6900 or visit www.p­inell­ashea­lth.c­om/Fl­uVac.­asp.
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