Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 4, 2014

Not too late for flu shot, health experts say

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Flu season is about to peak and health experts want you to know there are steps you can take to avoid getting it or at least minimize its effects.

Among those is vaccination, stocks of which are still widely available in the area.

The number of flu patients at King’s Daughters Medical Center’s Ashland urgent care center has spiked in the last week or so, from one or two per week to more than 10 per day, said nurse-practitioner John Mollineaux. Patients come in with the usual litany of complaints — generalized body aches, fatigue, dry cough, runny nose and sometimes fever, he said.

Those who seek treatment within 48 hours of onset may benefit from a prescription drug called Tamiflu. It is a fairly expensive drug, but many insurances cover it.

After two days the drug won’t help, but seeking medical attention is still advisable for older people, pregnant women, children and those with immune system issues or chronic respiratory problems, Mollineaux said.

He suggested going to an urgent care center rather than the emergency room because emergency rooms are likely to be overloaded, and that means the wait will be longer. Further, the longer the wait, the more exposure to germs lingering there from other patients.

It is important to know that flu originates with a virus, not bacteria, and therefore can’t be treated with antibiotics. That can be frustrating to many patients in an era where antibiotics are widely perceived as a cureall, he said.

Prevention is a matter of basic hygiene — covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands frequently, and, for children at least, refraining from sharing items like toys and pencils that can transfer the virus.

Vaccinations aren’t 100 percent effective — more like 85 percent, according to Boyd County Health Department epidemiologist Kristy Bolen — but even if you catch the flu after getting the shot the symptoms are likely to be less severe and of shorter duration.

Besides the high-risk groups, the health department particularly advises vaccinations for caregivers, health workers and child-care workers.

The post-holiday spike typically results from children returning to school, swapping the virus among themselves, and then going home to spread it there, Bolen said.

The vaccine is available at most major pharmacies and through physicians and medical clinics and through the health department by appointment, Bolen said.

The KDMC urgent care center has an adequate supply of the vaccine, Mollineaux said. It is not too late in the season to get vaccinated; it takes about 14 days for the shot to take effect, he said.

This year’s flu vaccine protects against four strains, including the H1N1 that is most prevalent this time of year, Bolen said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.