Time to start thinking about flu shots
Though the typical influenza season in Minnesota runs from November through April, the time to think about getting flu shots is now, according to Becker County Community Health supervisor Ronda Stock.
"There is no shortage of vaccine this year," she said. "We've just started our flu shot clinics, which is pretty much on target (as compared to previous years)."
One thing that has changed, however, is the number of clinics that Stock's agency holds each year.
"Every year, we reduce the number of vaccines we order," she said. "It used to be more of a public health function to give mass flu clinics, but it's not that way anymore. There are many more venues for people to get the vaccine."
Besides hospitals and private clinics, pharmacies and large discount stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart, which include their own pharmacies, are also offering the flu shot clinics.
"Pharmacists can give flu shots now too," Stock added. "There are even some schools that are contracting with private providers (instead of with their local public health agencies)."
And there are now alternative methods to getting a shot every year, Stock added. There is a nasal vaccine that has worked really well for otherwise healthy people between the ages of 2-49.
Whether it's through public/community health agencies or through a private provider, flu vaccinations are particularly important for young people, Stock said, because they are exposed to the disease not only during school hours, but also through after school programs and activities.
"Flu is a serious thing," Stock said. "We lose 36,000 people in the United States to the flu and its complications every year, and between 800-900 in Minnesota alone."
Though annual flu vaccinations are recommended "for anyone who doesn't want to get the flu," Stock said, there are certain segments of the population that are more at risk than others.
High-risk patients include everybody over age 65, diabetics, cancer patients, people with high blood pressure, kidney or heart disease, and people with respiratory problems.
Health care providers working in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and public health agencies, as well as day care providers and those working with children on a daily basis, are also advised to get vaccinated -- not just to protect themselves, but to prevent the spread of the disease, Stock said.
Though some cases of the flu have been known to be reported as early as September or October, there have not been any early outbreaks in Becker County this year.
"There are no documented cases of the flu in our county yet," Stock said.
Because the flu season lasts for several months, it is best to wait until late October or early November to get vaccinated, because there is a higher likelihood you will remain immune until the season has passed for another year, Stock said.
No vaccine is completely foolproof, however, she added.
"This vaccine is not a 100 percent guarantee that you won't get sick, but it's going to greatly reduce the symptoms and longevity of the flu if you do get it," Stock said.
Becker County Community Health has scheduled a public flu shot clinic for this Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Cormorant Senior Center, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. More dates may be added as the need arises, but as previously mentioned, the agency has "really scaled back" the number of clinics it holds each year, Stock said.
An updated list of flu shot clinics being offered in Becker County will be available in the Community Health section of the county's Web site, www.co.becker.mn.us. For more information, call Community Health at 218-847-5628, Ext. 5404.