Northwest Georgia Health District

A flu shot shortage may force older patients to check multiple locations for vaccine availability.

Northwest Georgia has plenty of vaccine available for the current influenza, or flu, season, but a manufacturing delay has resulted in spot shortages of the high-dose vaccine recommended for patients ages 65 and over, said Logan Boss, spokesman for the Northwest Georgia Health District. In addition to advising those patients to contact other locations to check if they have the vaccine in stock, Boss suggests that they discuss other options with their doctor.

“Flu is one of our most unpredictable infectious diseases,” Boss said.

Nasal spray, traditional flu shots and the new Flublok vaccine are helping to combat flu this year. A trained medical professional can help individuals determine which preventative measure is most appropriate for them.

Flublok, which protects against four flu strains, does not contain eggs; it is a good option for patients who are allergic to eggs and could not take the flu shot in the past, he said. Flublok is recommended for patients ages 18 and older.

Although it has at best 70 percent efficiency if the vaccine matches well with the strain prevalent that season, it is still the best way to guard against contracting the disease, he said.

“Unlike some of those wonderful childhood vaccines, the flu vaccine is one of our least effective,” he said.

Flu activity in Georgia and Tennessee

“Flu activity is still low in Georgia,” Boss said. Flu season typically peaks in late January to early February.

Boss explained that it is difficult to confirm the number of cases of flu in Georgia because the Department of Public Health tracks influenza-like illness (ILI) cases, and doctors generally treat patients based on their symptoms, rather than waiting to conduct a flu test.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the ILI intensity indicator for Georgia during the week ending Oct. 26 was low, and the dispersion was local. No flu-associated deaths had been confirmed in Georgia, and there had been 24 flu-associated hospitalizations in the metro-Atlanta area.

Erlanger Health System, on Oct. 24, said it had reported 112 ILI cases to the Hamilton County (Tenn.) Health Department, compared to only 37 cases over the same period last year.

“Based on the number of reportable cases at this point in the flu season, we continue to stress the importance of area residents getting vaccinated as soon as possible,” Dr. Steven Cooper, medical director of Erlanger’s Community Health Centers said.

“Getting the vaccine is helpful because it may reduce the severity or duration of flu symptoms, as well as protecting vulnerable populations of the community who are at higher risk for serious illness such as young children, pregnant patients and the elderly,” Cooper said.

Common-sense advice

To minimize the risk of contracting flu or another respiratory ailment this winter, Boss said to follow the common-sense instructions parents give their children.

♦ Wash hands frequently.

♦ Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

♦ Stay home from work or school if you are sick.

♦ Avoid people who appear to be ill.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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