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Flu season is here

By Staff | Oct 3, 2009

Even though H1N1 has garnered much of the public attention surrounding vaccinations this year, health experts are stressing that everyone should still get a shot of the seasonal flu vaccine.

The seasonal influenza vaccine is currently available in clinics and drug stores across Lee County. Each year doctors predict what the seasonal strain will look like and synthesize a vaccine that prevents those injected from contracting the often deadly flu.

Anna Vann, president of the Visiting Nurses Association of Southwest Florida, said 36,000 people die each year from the seasonal flu. An additional 220,000 are hospitalized each year.

“It’s not a benign illness,” she said. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Controls) recommends that everyone get a seasonal flu shot this year.”

The injection is administered in two ways: the traditional shot where it is injected into the muscle and another where the vaccine is sprayed into the nose.

Vann said that a person getting over the flu is more likely to catch other strains, including H1N1, because they have a weakened immune system.

“The problem is that you don’t want people getting sick with seasonal flu and then getting better but having a weakened immune system,” she said. “When you fight off regular flu it makes your immune system work harder.”

The pneumonia shot is another vaccine that should be considered by people over the age of 65, as well as those with chronic diseases and smokers. Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs, and smokers have a higher risk of developing this type of infection.

According to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 60,000 Americans die from pneumonia each year. Furthermore, the CDC reported that 30 percent of all H1N1-related deaths were in people who also had pneumonia.

Flu and pneumonia shots are offered by the Visiting Nurses Association (visitingnurseswfl.com) for $25 and $45, respectively. There are 16 vaccination sites offered by the VNA in Cape Coral.

The Lee County Health Department is also providing the community with flu shots. They are free to children, ages 6 months to 18 years, and $25 for anyone over the age of 19 – only cash or checks are accepted.

Flu vaccinations are free to anyone with Medicare Part D, and they must bring their Medicare card with them to the health department, she said.

Jennifer James-Mesloh, spokesperson for the health department, said most people get their shots through an employer or local drug store. But the department will have clinics and will open local high schools as vaccination sites.

Last year, the health department administered 5,172 flu vaccines to various age groups, while this year that number is due to increase dramatically.

The health department also released its action plan for administering the H1N1 vaccine as soon as its available in mid-October. Small supplies of the vaccine – specifically a flu mist for children – will be shipped to county health departments as early as next week.

At this time the county health department hasn’t received the H1N1 vaccines, said James-Mesloh, but the county has already filled out its order to the state. Once it arrives the department plans to vaccinate 190,000 people in four months one health department worker can administer 25 vaccines per hour.

“The best we can understand is that they are coming from the state and all county health departments have submitted orders and state will ship them,” she said.

The health department also is seeking volunteers to help with the H1N1 vaccinations process. Approximately 2,000 volunteers are needed – both medically and non-medically trained – which is equivalent to the relief effort from Hurricane Charley.

To sign up as a volunteer, call United Way’s 211 or log on to the county health department’s Web site at www.leeeoc.com.