By ROB W. ANDERSON
With the holiday season giving reason combined with warm and cold temperatures, people have been at risk for illness as they travel out of town, walk in and out of homes and public buildings all the while being exposed to all that this time of year can present: Influenza.
Medical providers began supplying flu vaccinations in late August to help curb any widespread impact of the respiratory condition.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health representatives said flu is at its highest levels in the northwest and central areas of the state, noting 51 individuals have been hospitalized with influenza since the season began.
Nearly 200 flu samples have already been tested at W.W. Hastings Hospital this month, said Infectious Diseases Specialist Jorge Mera.
“Just in December alone we tested 178 respiratory samples for the flu and 29 turned out positive for flu A and one for flu B,” he said. “We are in full-blown flu season. The only way to effectively prevent the flu is through vaccination.”
Mera said the flu A strain currently circulating is in the vaccine, while two-thirds of the flu B strain that is being detected is also in the vaccine.
A report by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation stated cases of flu activity not usually seen until after the Christmas holiday have been recorded in the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, per the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC said the outbreak may be a result of this year’s strain of flu known as H3N2, which is reported to cause a more severe illness. The vaccine Mera described is said to be a good match to the virus by the CDC. Those who haven’t received vaccination are greater risk for contracting H3N2, according to the CDC.
Flu shots are especially important for people who are part of the high-risk group, which include children, pregnant women, adults 50 or older, individuals living with a chronic lung disease like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, diabetes, neurologic conditions or other long-term health conditions.
“The flu vaccine provides protection for the individual who receives it and reduces the chance of spreading the flu to those who may not yet have been vaccinated, including babies too young to receive a a vaccination,” said Cherokee County Health Department Public Health Nurse Christin Hullinger. “People who have the flu can spread it to others even before they feel sick.”
The OMRF says those who don’t receive a flu shot will be exposed to the infection that spreads with noted adeptness.
Hullinger said some people avoid receiving vaccination due to the myth that receiving the shot will cause the illness when in reality if the individual contracts the flu around the time he or she receives vaccination, the illness is likely the result of being exposed to the condition shortly after receiving the shot and before the approximate 14 day-window of development of full protection from the illness.
Health care professionals urge everyone to become more attentive to the habit of hand washing, as the practice is viewed as “one of the most important factors in stopping the spread of disease.” Germs are spread from unclean hands to food or other like items that may be used for eating or drinking or daily needs like using the telephone or computer.
According to the CDC, a third of adults living in the U.S. don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, one in four adults don’t wash their hands after changing a baby’s diaper, more than half of adults do not wash their hands after cleaning up after pets, while only a third of adults wash their hands after sneezing or coughing. Less than one in five people wash their hands after touching money, per the CDC.
According to a press release, the CCHD will be providing flu vaccinations using the following fee schedule. There is no charge for families whose income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, no charge for adults ages 65 and older, no charge for children who have health insurance or receive SoonerCare or are Native American or Alaskan Native or are children whose insurance does not cover vaccines.
Children and adults with health insurance that cover vaccinations and those with an income level above 185 percent of the poverty level will be charged a fee of $25 to cover the cost of and delivery of the vaccine. The CCHD accepts cash, checks and credit cards as a form of payment, per the press release. The flu vaccine is available at county health departments, retail pharmacies and other outlets.
Hastings officials said the flu vaccine is still available for patients in their clinics, while Tahlequah City Hospital was contacted for the story, but feedback was not received by the Daily Press for publication.