Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
Everyone is hoping for a healthy and happy new year, and that entails warding off nasty sicknesses such as influenza, or the flu, which is most common during the cold, winter months.
Local health experts haven’t seen any great outbreak of the virus, but it’s never too late to be vaccinated.
The flu season typically runs from late fall through early spring, essentially through March, said Teri Williams, spokeswoman for Kingman Regional Medical Center.
Although most people who contract the flu will recover without serious consequences, the virus can lead to other complications that may result in death, particularly for very young children and older folks.
“People don’t realize how serious the flu is,” Williams said. “It can bring on all kinds of bad stuff. It can turn into pneumonia or respiratory disease. It puts stress on the heart. It’s not a trivial thing.”
Deaths associated with influenza ranged from 3,300 to 49,000 a year from 1977 through 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“It should be treated very seriously, especially for the elderly and those with chronic illnesses,” said Chris Proffit, pharmacy manager of Uptown Drug in Kingman. “It can lead to hospitalization or even death.”
Vaccination is the best method to prevent the flu and its complications.
Flu shots are administered by physicians, urgent care centers and most drug stores, including Walgreens, CVS and Uptown Drug.
KRMC is offering free flu shots while the vaccine lasts during a senior health fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Hualapai Mountain Campus on Santa Rosa Road.
Proffit said he’s seeing about the same number of people coming into Uptown Drug for flu shots this year as in past years.
“I just gave a couple shots this morning,” he said Wednesday. “It’s slowed down. The peak is October and November.”
Uptown Drug gives flu shots for $40, and most insurance plans cover some or all of the cost, Proffit said. Medicare patients are usually covered 100 percent, he added.
Some flu symptoms can be treated by over-the-counter drugs that contain a pain reliever, fever reducer, antihistamine, decongestant and expectorant, the pharmacist noted. Theraflu is a good example of a product that has all those ingredients.
In severe cases, flu victims may have to visit a doctor to get a prescription for something like Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that blocks the actions of the A and B types of influenza virus, which are most common.
“This year seems very mild,” Proffit said. “I believe it’s going to hit harder in the spring. But so far, everything I see is very mild.”
Vaccines are not 100 percent effective, Williams of KRMC said.
A variety of vaccines are available to battle flu strains. The composition of vaccines is changed most seasons, with one or more vaccine strains replaced to protect against viruses that are circulating.
Some flu vaccines this season contain adjuvant, an ingredient that creates a stronger immune response. It’s approved for use in people age 65 and older.
There’s also a flu shot that protects against four types of flu viruses made with a virus grown in cell culture. It’s available for the first time this year in the United States.
Live attenuated influenza vaccine, or the nasal spray vaccine, is not recommended by CDC for use this season because of concerns about its effectiveness.
CDC recommends that everyone six months or older get a flu vaccine every year by the end of October. However, it’s better late than never when it comes to vaccination, Williams said.
“You just never know. The flu is so unpredictable. Sometimes it doesn’t peak until February or March,” she said.
While the vaccine is usually effective for a year in adults, young children may need two doses. Check with your health care provider for dosage advice.
Most people come in for flu shots starting in late August and early September, said a Kingman Walgreens manager who could not give his name due to corporate policy.
“It’s slowing down,” he said. “In your head, when you think of the flu, when does it happen? In the winter. October, November … we had 10 to 15 people at a time.”