It's National Influenza Vaccination Week; vaccine is available locally

As the holidays and cold weather approaches, people spend more time indoors visiting with family, friends and in crowded places, like airports. Their exposure to germs increases.

Some germs are viruses that cause a mild illness and are mildly challenging to the immune system, like the sniffles or the common cold. Other germs, like the influenza virus, can lead to severe illness — even hospitalization and death.

There are 226,000 hospitalizations for influenza-related illness each year in the U.S. Children have the same rates for hospitalization as seniors for influenza illness. Last year, there were 86 pediatric influenza related deaths in the U.S., of which half were in the 5- to 18-year-old group.

A hospitalization for islanders means a difficult off-island trip, trauma of a new strange place, and parents needing to miss work (or a paycheck), or not being able to stay with other siblings left at home.

Last year, there were two pediatric deaths in Seattle — a previously health second-grader and an infant. Influenza is a serious illness; people of any age can get it.

“Influenza infects approximately one third of all kids each year,” said Dr. Renee Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Of this group, infants and toddlers are 2 to 3 times more likely to be sick with influenza as they have no prior experience with influenza viruses and have not built the antibodies to fight off the illness. Even if children do not develop the severe complications of influenza, like pneumonia and dehydration, they often will develop ear or sinus infections that require antibiotics, lost time from school (or work for the parents), and costs of doctor visits.

Vaccines help children build the antibodies to a weakened form of the virus. The most common myth is that the vaccine will give someone the illness. This is impossible. The influenza vaccine is grown in chicken eggs, then killed, and cut up into small pieces, so it cannot replicate and give the person the influenza illness.

While there are many different influenza viruses, the influenza vaccine is designed to protect best against the three main influenza strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. The vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses or it can make your illness milder if you get a different influenza virus.

Children younger than 9 years who have not had a influenza vaccine before will need two shots, four weeks apart, their first vaccination year. Otherwise, only one shot per year is needed to provide full protection. “Vaccination is the single best protection against the flu,” Schuchat said.

The CDC expanded guidelines recommend all children 6 months to 18 years get an influenza vaccine. Why? Children are usually the first age group to get influenza each year; outbreaks usually begin in children and then move to the larger community. Influenza is very transmissible in schools and child day care as this is where children congregate and their respiratory hygiene is poor. Children tend to take longer to overcome influenza than adults usually about 10 or more days, and so are communicable for a longer time period.

Children spread illness to others in their families, schools, churches and other vulnerable people in the community. There is evidence to show that as school and child day-care influenza rates go down, so do the rates in the community. This is a direct advantage to you or someone you love who might have an increased vulnerability to influenza, like a baby younger than 6 months, an adult with a chronic illness, or someone who is undergoing cancer treatment.

Avoiding influenza through vaccination is a key proactive prevention method to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your community.

Dec. 8-14 is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Talk to your health care provider about influenza vaccine. Influenza vaccine is available and can be given throughout the influenza season, into December, January and beyond. Vaccine is available from all local health care providers and San Juan County Health and Community Services.

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