WILL PINKSTON | The Sun
Michelle Wilson, BaptistWorx nurse practitioner, administers a flu vaccine to Marra McMillan in an exam room at BaptistWorx in Western Baptist Hospital on Tuesday. This year's flu vaccine contains three strains -- influenza A H1N1 and H3N2 viruses and the influenza B virus -- whereas last year's contained only two.
It’s time once again to roll up the sleeve for that ounce of prevention during flu season, as vaccines remain the first line of defense when the noses begin to drip and sneezes start to fly.
While seasonal influenza activity generally peaks when colder weather drives people indoors where they’re in closer proximity with one another — usually during January and February — the virus can begin as early as October and still spread rapidly, especially if people aren’t vaccinated.
“You should get the flu shot as soon as it’s available to you,” said Michelle Wilson, nurse practitioner at BaptistWorx in Western Baptist Hospital. “You shouldn’t wait.”
“With the flu vaccine, your immunity is not effective until two weeks after the shot, so the sooner you get vaccinated, the better.”
With concern for the development of new strains of influenza this season, the vaccine administered today contains strains of the H1N1 virus that appeared last year, and newer strains of the H3N2 and influenza B viruses.
“What’s been developed is a vaccine based on what they think is going to cause an outbreak in the future, so really you’re getting three doses in one, whereas the older flu vaccine just had two,” Wilson said.
Everyone above 6 months of age is encouraged to be vaccinated and especially those people at a higher risk for contracting the virus, such as people with asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease; pregnant women; people 65 or older, or people who live with or care for others who are at high risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The best way not to spread the flu is to vaccinate yourself so that you don’t get it or spread it among your co-workers or family,” Wilson said.
Brandi Earp, regional epidemiologist with the Purchase District Health Department, said there have been no reports of influenza in far western Kentucky. Only sporadic cases have been identified throughout the state, according to influenza tracking data from the CDC.
While the 2011-12 flu season was one of the milder years across the country, the CDC warns people against assuming this year to be equally as quiet, as the severity of the virus depends on whether the vaccine accurately targets the active strain circulating and how many people get vaccinated.
However, the lower number of positive cases last year could be a factor of greater numbers of people receiving vaccines, Wilson said. Last year more than 132 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed while nearly 150 million will be distributed this year.
“There’s more awareness, and you’re seeing less flu and flu complications because more people are getting vaccinated,” she said. “It’s also more readily available to you. There are a lot of retail pharmacies that provide it and employers, as well.”
And as for those people holding out because they’re afraid they might develop flu from the vaccine, Wilson said it’s nothing more than a myth. If any symptoms develop near the time of the vaccine, it’s only coincidental.
“You cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” she said. “The flu vaccine that’s injectable is a dead virus, and you cannot get sick from a dead virus. The flu nasal spray is a live virus though it is deactivated, so you can have some symptoms — fever, runny nose or body aches — but you cannot get the flu.”
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.