(Payne County, Okla)  When you see signs that advertise: “Get Your Flu Vaccine Here,” at this time of year, you might think “Isn’t it too late for that?” The answer is no, it’s not too late! This year’s vaccine contains H1N1-2009 which is well-matched to the circulating strain.

“In Oklahoma, flu season typically peaks in January or February and can last as late as May,” said Pam Dvorak, RNC, District Nurse Manager for Payne County Health Department. “We are encouraging people who have not yet been vaccinated this flu season to get vaccinated now.”

For millions of people every season, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed.  More than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States from flu complications each year. Also, the flu can be deadly. Flu-associated deaths in the United States can range from 3,000 to about 49,000, depending on the severity of the flu season. 242 influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported statewide while five influenza-related deaths have occurred among residents of Kay, LeFlore, Osage, Pittsburg, and Tulsa counties since reporting for the current flu season began on Sept. 29, 2013.

This is why the Payne County Health Department, Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.  It is available as a shot and as a nasal spray.  There are many flu vaccine options to choose from including: a flu shot that protects against three flu viruses, a shot that protects against four flu viruses, an intradermal flu shot (for adults 18 through 64 years of age), an egg-free shot (for adults 18 through 49 years of age), and a high-dose flu shot (for people 65 and older). The nasal spray vaccine, which protects against four flu viruses, is approved only for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49 years who aren’t pregnant. Talk with your health care provider about the different vaccine options if you have questions, or visit this CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm.

Anyone can get the flu, but some people are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. For those people, getting the flu vaccine is especially important. People at greater risk include, but are not limited to:

·    Children younger than 5 years old, and especially children younger than 2 years old

·    Pregnant women

·    People 65 years and older

·    People with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease

Ask your health care provider if members of your family are at a greater risk for flu complications. If you care for anyone at high risk, including babies younger than 6 months because they are too young to get the vaccine, then you should get vaccinated.  Children 6 months through 8 years of age who are getting vaccinated for the first time need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected.  If a child has not received his or her first dose, get them vaccinated now.  Parents should check with the child’s health care provider to see if a second dose is needed.

Parents should be aware of children with emergency warning signs of flu including the following:

·    Fast breathing or trouble breathing

·    Bluish skin color

·    Not drinking enough fluids

·    Not waking up or not interacting

·    Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

·    Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

·    Fever with a rash

Parents and caregivers should seek medical help right away for any infant who is unable to eat, has trouble breathing, has no tears when crying, and has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal. Adults should seek medical attention if they have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough. It is not necessary to go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill.

If you do become sick with flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other things you have to do and no one else can do for you. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as acetaminophen. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings. Remember to cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others. If you are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice.

“Getting the flu vaccine is simple, and it is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, visits to your health care provider, missed work due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades,” Dvorak said.

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including health care provider offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers. They are also offered by many employers, and in some schools. So next time you see a sign that says, “Get Your Flu Vaccine Here,” stop in and get your flu vaccine or make an appointment with your health care provider. Use the Flu Vaccine Finder at https://flushot.healthmap.org to find a location near you.

If cost is a concern, many insurance plans cover flu vaccination with no co-pay as a free preventive service. The Payne County Health Department can accept some insurance benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, a sliding fee scale can be used based on income. The most anyone should expect to pay for a flu shot at the health department is $25.00 per person.

The Payne County Health Department offers two locations, 1321 W. 7th in Stillwater and 1026 N. Linwood in Cushing. Flu shots are given on a walk-in basis 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Monday-Friday and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday. For more information about influenza, visit www.health.ok.gov or call 405/372-8200 or 918/225-3377.