Flu vaccine will include H1N1 protection this year
Health officials recommend 3-in-1 flu shot for everyone older than 6 months
The sting of vaccinations won't be as harsh this flu season as it was last year.
Seasonal flu vaccinations this year will include coverage against the H1N1 virus, saving patients time, money and the added prick associated with last year's separate H1N1 vaccination, according to medical experts.
Crates of the flu shots are starting to arrive at hospitals throughout Montgomery County, spurring medical professionals to roll out their annual campaigns that encourage residents to get vaccinated. For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging everyone over 6 months old to receive the vaccine this year. With ample preparation time for this year's flu season and increased production, hospitals, pharmacies and clinics should have enough vaccines to go around, said Dr. Drew White, the chairman and medical director of the emergency department at Washington Adventist Hospital.
"Annual flu vaccines are the best defense against the flu for children or adults," he said. "That's a common question. What's the best thing I can do?' And it's get an annual flu vaccine."
Between April 2009 when H1N1 broke out and April 10, 2010, there have been about 61 million infections and 12,500 deaths related to H1N1, according to the CDC website.
Judy Lichty, regional director of health and wellness for Adventist HealthCare, said residents have no reason to be wary of the H1N1 vaccination. It's just as safe as vaccinations against other strains of influenza and was only developed separately last year because of time constraints, she said.
"Had it popped its head up earlier, it would have been in last year's vaccine," she said.
Each year, scientists look to the most common strains of flu from last year as well as the strains that are common in the southern hemisphere, where flu season is already under way, White said. This information gives clues into what types of flu will be most prevalent from mid-October through February.
It's a process that takes quite some time. Lichty said she ordered the vaccines for this year last November. When drug companies last year realized the impact H1N1 would have on the country, they had already started production on the standard vaccine.
The CDC is also recommending that residents get vaccinated as soon as possible, even though the efficacy of the shot wanes over time, White said. You never know when the flu might hit, he said, and it takes about two weeks after receiving the vaccine for your body to develop the antibodies needed to fight the flu. White also noted that while the vaccine only protects against three strains H1N1, influenza B strain and a new influenza H3N2 strain receiving the vaccine can help decrease the severity and duration of similar strains.
White said everyone 6 months or older, with the exception of people who are allergic to eggs, should get the vaccine. Just as important as the vaccine, he said, is prevention of the flu. Children and adults alike should wash their hands with soap frequently, cover their mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and sneeze into the crease of their elbow if there's no tissue available.
If the flu still hits, White warned that the following symptoms may require immediate medical attention:
-Children: fast or troubled breathing, bluish or gray skin color, dehydration, severe vomiting, not waking up or not interacting, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a worse fever or cough.
-Adults: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, confusion, severe vomiting, sudden dizziness and flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a worse fever or cough.
Visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/ for more information on preventing and treating the flu.