The Times West Virginian

December 2, 2013

Health department reports steady amount of people getting flu vaccine

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The Marion County Health Department encourages people to reduce their risk of catching the flu by getting vaccinated.

The influenza, or flu, season typically starts in October and lasts through March. The local health department began offering the flu vaccine on Sept. 13, and has seen a steady amount of people stopping by to get immunized since then, said Donna Riffle, director of nursing.

The Marion County Health Department, located at 300 Second St. in Fairmont, holds a general immunization clinic every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. No appointments are accepted, as these services are for walk-ins only.

During National Influenza Vaccination Week, which is Dec. 8-14, the health department will hold two additional flu vaccination clinics. In addition to the regular Wednesday immunization hours, a clinic will be offered from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Dec. 12, and Friday, Dec. 13.

There is typically no charge for the flu vaccine for people 18 and younger. For those 19 and older, the immunization costs $25. The Marion County Health Department, which is a nonprofit, can also bill Medicare as well as PEIA, Blue Cross Blue Shield and The Health Plan insurances.

The health department has visited senior centers, private businesses and other locations to give the flu vaccine. Riffle said the goal is to make sure as many people as possible are immunized. When parents bring their children into the department for other vaccines, the staff always asks if they would also like to have the flu vaccine.

“By getting (the flu vaccine), you are less likely to get flu,” she said. “At least you’re being protected from the strains that are in the flu vaccine.”

Riffle explained that most of the flu immunizations available at the health department are quadrivalent, which means they protect people from four different influenza strains — two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.

For people ages 2 to 49, the vaccine is also available in a mist form that is sprayed into the nose, she said.

Riffle said the flu shot is recommended for everyone, but especially for children, people over 65, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases. Individuals with egg allergies or who have had allergic reactions related to the flu vaccine in the past should not get the immunization. In addition, the vaccine should not be given to individuals who have had Guillain-Barre syndrome.

No flu cases have been reported in Marion County so far this flu season, she said. The health department has seen a few people with influenza-like illness, meaning they had symptoms like a fever along with a cough or sore throat.

Some symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, chills, headaches, and just feeling bad and general malaise. If people think they may have the flu, they should seek medical care, Riffle said.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, people should make sure to wash their hands and use cough etiquette in order to help prevent the spread of flu, she said. The flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for two to eight hours after being deposited on a surface.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” Riffle said. “If you have a fever, you should stay home at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever.”

Sometimes people don’t want to stay home when they are sick or are unable to because they don’t have sick leave, she said. But individuals and their employers need to understand that they will make other employees, customers or patients at their workplaces sick if they go to work with the flu.

The flu vaccine can have some side effects, but Riffle pointed out that it is a myth that the vaccine can give a person the flu.

The vaccine only protects against certain flu viruses, so a person could potentially be exposed in everyday life to a different virus not included in the vaccine, she said. In addition, a person may be getting sick before receiving the vaccine, but just doesn’t know it.

Every individual who gets any type of vaccine at the health department receives a Vaccine Information Statement explaining the type of vaccine, who should and shouldn’t get it, any possible side effects, and other information. Another great place to get up-to-date and accurate information on the flu is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, www.cdc.gov, Riffle said.

On a separate note, the Marion County Health Department also offers the Zostavax vaccine for shingles for individuals 60 and older. This state-supplied vaccine costs $25 and is available during the Wednesday immunization clinics. Riffle urged people to talk to their doctor about whether they need this vaccine.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.