Posted 3/11/09 (Wed)
By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
If you didn’t get your flu vaccine this fall, you might want to get it now. Flu season is here and McKenzie County has not been spared.
Influenza, or "flu," is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs that can affect millions of people every year. It is highly contagious and occurs mainly in the late fall, winter, or early spring.
“There have been 521 cases of influenza reported in North Dakota and 20 of those cases are in McKenzie County,” says Michelle Feist, state influenza coordinator with the North Dakota Department of Health. “Last year the peak week was March 1, but the numbers are still climbing, so I don’t think we’ve seen the peak of this season for this year.”
According to Feist, in the past week there have been six new cases of influenza reported in McKenzie County and last year at this time there was a total of 27 cases reported.
“We usually see around 2,000 cases of influenza per season in North Dakota,” says Feist. “Maybe this is going to be a great year for the flu and our numbers will be way down from the average, or we are just seeing a later flu season and the worst is yet to come.”
Influenza is highly contagious and easily spread from person to person. When someone who has influenza sneezes, coughs, or even talks, the influenza virus is released into the air and may be inhaled by anyone nearby.
Influenza affects all age groups and causes moderate to severe illness, loss of school and work, and complications such as pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. For healthy children and adults, influenza is typically a moderately severe illness. For people who are 65 and older and those of any age who may have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, or heart problems, influenza can be very severe and even fatal. Children age six months through four years are at substantially increased risk for influenza-related hospitalizations and/or emergency room visits.
“Getting the flu vaccine is important for your own protection from the flu, but also for the protection of those around you,” comments Feist. “There is not a shortage of the flu vaccine this year like in past years so everyone is capable of getting the vaccine. Even people afraid of needles have no excuses because there is a vaccine available that doesn’t involve getting a shot.”
October or November is the best time to get the flu vaccine, but you can still get vaccinated in December and throughout the flu season. In North Dakota, the flu season can start in October and last as late as May.
“Those who received the vaccine in October or even September don’t need to be re-vaccinated because the vaccine should keep them protected through the entire flu season,” says Feist. “But those who were not vaccinated this fall can still get their vaccination at local clinics or health units. It will take about two weeks for the vaccine to take its full effect, but once effective it will protect you throughout the season.”
According to Feist, the flu comes on quickly with symptoms including cough, body aches, sore throat and fever. The level of severity is different for each case and she urges people to see their doctor anytime they become concerned about their health.
“The flu affects everyone differently so there is no specific time to see your doctor,” states Feist. “However, the sooner a flu patient begins receiving treatment the better.”
With flu season in full swing and the worst likely yet to come, now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t, and for those who have been vaccinated, Feist urges you to remember to wash your hands and stay away from those who are ill.