(Little Rock--) Seasonal flu season is near, and it’s also time to get your flu shot. In the first week of November, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is practicing its Local Mass Dispensing Plan
and will be providing flu shots at 81 county health units statewide.
Anyone seeking a flu shot is asked to bring Medicaid, Medicare or insurance cards with them so clinic workers can file insurance claims whenever possible. There will be no charge to those who do not have coverage and are unable to pay.
The purpose of the clinics is to provide flu vaccine to Arkansans while exercising the county mass dispensing plans. These plans are designed to ensure that health professionals and volunteers are prepared to vaccinate or dispense medication to a large population in a very short period of time. If Arkansas were to experience pandemic influenza, or another such disaster, it might be necessary to distribute medications to many citizens quickly.
William Mason, M.D., Director of the Emergency Preparedness Branch at ADH, said, “The time to practice dispensing large amounts of medication is now, before we have a disaster. It is important for Arkansans to get their flu shots to protect them from influenza this year. It is also important to exercise our Local County Mass Dispensing Plan. This exercise gives us the opportunity to practice our plans for emergency response and protect the public against the flu at the same time.”
If a disaster were to occur, public health response teams, healthcare providers, county government and emergency management would need to mobilize quickly and activate their emergency response plans. This one-day event will provide an opportunity for public health professionals to collaborate with other emergency response teams and test the effectiveness of the plans in the event of a national or local flu pandemic or bioterrorism incident.
This exercise will include dispensing approximately 100,000 doses of influenza vaccine to
persons ages six months and older. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) reports
that there is an ample supply of flu vaccine this year. Arkansas is receiving 263,000 doses of the vaccine for use in local public health clinics, nursing homes and Vaccines for Children
(VFC) provider offices. Vaccine will be delivered to all clinics and will be available to the public at the one-day Mass Dispensing Clinics.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and results in 25-50 million infections and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.
Influenza symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and occasionally stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
The influenza virus is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year.
You cannot catch the flu from the vaccination. The vaccination uses a dead virus and cannot cause you to get the flu. The vaccine usually becomes effective two weeks after being administered; therefore, the best time to be vaccinated is mid-October and November. However, it can still be beneficial to get the vaccine even later as typical flu season runs from mid-December through March.
Though all persons older than six months of age should get a flu shot each year, those most at risk for influenza disease complications are:
• people 50 years of age and older
• children ages six months through eighteen years
• adults and children with chronic lung or heart disorders including heart disease and asthma
• pregnant women
• adults and children with chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney diseases, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems, including persons with HIV/AIDS
• residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• children and teenagers, six months to 18 years of age who take aspirin daily
• Adults and children who have any condition such as spinal cord injuries and other neuromuscular problems that could result in a reduced ability to cough
To prevent the spread of flu to persons who are at high risk for complications, flu vaccination is also recommended for the following persons:
• Health care providers
• Healthy household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children less than five years old
• Caregivers of adults 50 years of age and older-more-
• Caregivers of persons with high-risk medical conditions
There are two types of flu vaccines that are available and effective at preventing the flu. One
is the familiar flu shot with a needle and the other is the intranasal spray flu vaccine which is needle-free. The intranasal spray flu vaccine is approved for use in healthy people ages two to 49 who are not pregnant. The nasal spray vaccine will not be available at ADH clinics.
“For many years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and physicians have recommended that all pregnant women get the flu shot since they are at high risk for complications. It is especially effective when received at the proper time of year—just before flu season,” said Dr. Richard Nugent, Branch Chief for Family Health in the Center for Health Advancement at ADH. “We have known that the shot protects pregnant women. Now we know that the protection for the mother also extends to the baby, even for a short time after the baby is born.”
Persons who should not receive influenza vaccine for health reasons are persons with a severe allergy (i.e. anaphylactic allergic reaction) to eggs and persons who previously have had a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome during the six weeks after receiving influenza vaccine.
An influenza vaccination offers 70 percent to 90 percent protection against infection and can decrease the severity and side effects if you do get sick.
For more information on seasonal influenza and to get the location and time for the flu clinic nearest you, go to healthyarkansas.com