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Erie County Health Department warns that ‘the flu ends with U’

JUST A PINCH — The flu vaccine is administered either via a shot or a nasal spray.
HAMBURG — It is winter, and that means although sniffles and sore nostrils can become a common occurrence and the bottoms of coat pockets may become layered with tissues and cough drops, the Erie County Department of Health said that, if a feverish chill starts to occur, be wary, because it is flu season.

According to that department, the 2013 – 2014 flu vaccine supply, which was intended to last from August – May, protects against three different strains: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and an H1N1 virus. The ECDOH has also released warnings and information for residents about influenza symptoms and preventions, specifically the vaccine.

“Similar to the 2009 flu season, the majority of those falling ill with this flu strain are between the ages of 18 – 49 years old,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “However, no matter what your age, you are at risk of getting influenza if you have not been vaccinated, during this flu season. Everyone at least 6 months of age should receive the flu vaccine as soon as possible, to stem the spread of this disease. While the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it offers the best protection we have against this very serious disease.”

Common symptoms of the flu include fever or the feeling of being feverish, in addition to chills; vomiting; diarrhea; cough; sore throat; body and head aches; runny/stuffy nose and fatigue. It has also been reported that the flu can lead to respiratory illnesses that may require hospitalization and can be fatal.

The flu is an airborne virus “spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” according to the ECDOH. Along with the vaccination, Burstein listed other ways to prevent the spread of the sickness, during the winter weather:

– Wash hands often with soap and water, especially when soiled and before handling food.

– Use a tissue while sneezing or coughing, or the crook of the arm rather than hands.

The vaccine, which comes either via a shot or a nasal spray, “helps build a better immune response,” said Erica Martinez, a pharmacist at the Rite Aid Pharmacy located at 140 Pine St. in Hamburg. Adding that the shot is “highly recommended,” she encouraged individuals to receive one flu shot, per season.

Many pharmacies will vaccinate those 18 years of age or older. Those younger than 18 who are seeking the vaccination must look for assistance from a health care provider. There is also a special shot for those aged 65 and older.

Although everyone is susceptible to the illness, some may be at a higher risk, said the Erie County Department of Health, which recommended that those who have medical conditions that may put them at higher risk of developing the flu – such as pregnancy, chronic lung disease or diabetes – should seek the preventative flu shot, as should those with weaker immune systems, health care professionals and young children.

According to the New York Department of Health, the flu vaccine “is not approved for children younger than 6 months old, but their risk of flu complications is higher than for any other child age group.” The best recommended prevention for children of this age or younger is to have members of the child’s household and caregivers be vaccinated.

For those with financial concerns, Matrinez said, “Most insurances do cover the flu shot at a zero copay.” A prescription is not needed for this immunization; some local locations accept walk-in appointments, during regular store hours.

“You can’t get sick from the flu shot,” Matrinez said. The NYDOH confirmed the myth that the flu shot causes illness to be false, saying that the shot actually stimulates the body to produce antibodies that fight off the disease.

Martinez added that the vaccine can take up to two weeks to build immunity; to individuals who may have fallen ill after receiving the flu shot or spray, he said that the virus may have already been lurking within that person’s system, prior to the vaccination.

“It’s not too late to get the flu shot,” said Jeffrey Rutowski, head pharmacist at Wanakah Pharmacy, which is located at 4923 Lake Shore Road in Hamburg. “There’s plenty of vaccine out there. When it’s available, patients should get it.”

Those with an egg allergy are advised by pharmacists to check with a health care provider, prior to receiving the vaccine. Rutowski warned that an egg-based protein is used to develop the vaccination.

According to doctors and pharmacists, common side effects from the shot include a mild reaction, such as tenderness, slight irritation or swelling, at the injection site. Patients may also experience general body discomfort, headache, fatigue or muscle/joint achiness. There are some extreme side effects, but Rutowski advised that these cases are very rare.

Most pharmacies’ vaccination protocols are similar, Martinez said, but she recommended checking with specific locations, for more details.

Local flu shot locations include Rite Aid pharmacies, CVS pharmacies, Tops Friendly Market pharmacies, Wanakah Pharmacy and more. A flu clinic locator is available at www2.erie.gov/immunizewny/index.php?q=flu-clinic-listing.

For more information, visit the Erie County Department of Health’s website at www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=novel-influenza-h1n1-virus-information.
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