Aging Well: CDC: Nearly everyone should get flu vaccine

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Flu vaccine

The seasonal flu vaccine includes H1N1 and is recommended for everyone ages a months and older. Adult flu shots cost $14, and the FluMist costs $25. A higher-dose vaccine for adults 65 and older is available from some health care providers, but not the VNA. Child flu shots or FluMist cost $14 or less. Medicare and Medicaid are accepted; must bring card.

VNA drop-in flu clinics

Clinics are for all ages unless otherwise noted

■ Craig

4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 18 at Sunset Elementary

11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at Centennial Mall, allowing people to vote and vaccinate

■ South Routt/Hayden

3:30 to 6:30 p.m. today at South Routt Elementary School in Yampa

4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 at Hayden Middle/High School

■ Steamboat Springs

4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Nov. 30 at Steamboat Springs High School

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 28 through Nov. 18 at the Steamboat VNA

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at Yampa Valley Bank (Adults ages 18 and older); part of the United Way 10K

Vaccinations also are available by appointment. Call 970-879-1632 in Steamboat or 970-824-8233 in Craig.

Say ‘Boo’ to the flu

■ Get a flu shot.

■ Wash your hands often and carry hand sanitizer.

■ Cough/sneeze into a tissue or your elbow — not your hands.

■ If you are sick, don’t go to work or school or visit others, especially older adults, pregnant women, infants or people with chronic medical conditions.

■ If you have an underlying medical condition and get the flu, contact your doctor immediately. An antiviral medication taken early on can help slow virus growth.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Northwest Colorado VNA

— Last year, flu vaccination guidelines were muddled and confusing.

This year, the process is much clearer. There is just one vaccine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges everyone ages 6 months and older to get it.

“It has to do with herd immunity,” explained Janice Poirot, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. “When there is a high level of population protected against any disease, it helps protect those not vaccinated.

“It’s another way of keeping vulnerable populations protected.”

A healthy person may not worry about getting very sick from the flu, but if they do get sick, they unknowingly could put others at risk.

It’s possible for a person to transmit the flu a day before symptoms appear. In that time, they could expose themselves to infants, elderly individuals, pregnant women or others at risk of getting very ill, Poirot said.

The best defense is for everyone to get vaccinated and also to be diligent about not going to work or school when they are very contagious, or when they have a fever and/or are coughing and sneezing.

Adults can “shed” the virus a week after symptoms subside, while children still can be contagious as long as 10 days after symptoms clear, Poirot said.

Older adults and flu

About 36,000 people die every year because of flu-related complications. Most hospitalizations and deaths are among older adults whose immune systems tend to be less efficient and who are more likely to have a chronic illness.

The flu can exacerbate conditions including diabetes, respiratory or immune-compromising diseases and heart, lung and kidney diseases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this year licensed a higher-dose vaccine for people ages 65 and older. Fluzone High-Dose has four times the amount of antigen, which prompts the body to make antibody, encouraging a better immune response.

“Data has shown for a couple of years that the regular flu vaccine is not as effective in the senior population as the non-senior population,” Poirot said.

The high-dose vaccine is available from some health care providers.

The Northwest Colorado VNA does not have the vaccine this season because of cost. It is nearly three times more expensive than the seasonal flu vaccine, and when the agency pre-ordered flu vaccines in January it was unclear whether the high-dose version would be covered by Medicare, Poirot said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed in summer that Fluzone High-Dose is a benefit covered by Medicare Part B.

Flu vaccine basics

Each year, scientists study virus samples collected from across the world to determine which strains are most likely to be prevalent in the following season. The FDA determines which three strains manufacturers should include in vaccines for the U.S.

Because of the length of time it takes to develop the flu vaccine, it doesn’t always match the viruses circulating at any given time throughout the flu season.

Last season, for example, there were two vaccines — seasonal flu and H1N1, a strain that exhibited severe symptoms but surfaced too late to be incorporated into the 2009-10 seasonal flu vaccine.

This season’s flu vaccine includes H1N1 protection. The U.S. Public Health Emergency for H1N1 expired in June, but the CDC expects it to continue spreading like a regular seasonal flu virus.

Although the flu vaccine will protect against the influenza virus, it will not protect against other illnesses with similar symptoms or viral gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the stomach flu.

Some children ages 9 or younger may need a booster vaccine, depending on their flu vaccination history.

There are two types of flu vaccine. The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus. It’s approved for people older than 6 months, including those with chronic conditions and older adults. Fluzone High-Dose for older adults is inactivated.

A flu shot will not give someone the flu, but people who receive a shot may experience minor side effects such as low-grade fever and aches. It can take as long as two weeks after vaccination for a person to develop protection.

Nasal spray flu vaccines are an option for healthy individuals ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant. The spray contains live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu but can result in symptoms including headache, sore throat and cough in adults, and fever, muscle aches and runny nose in children.

Allergic reactions to the influenza vaccine are rare. People should consult with their doctor before getting the vaccine if they are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, have a moderate to severe illness with a fever or have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

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