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Flu shot advised by health units

By STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / November 2, 1998

Influenza is prevalent in the United States from November to March or April each year, and health professionals in the River Parishes are advising area residents at risk to get vaccinated.

The flu is a serious disease caused by a virus that spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. It can cause fever, cough, chills,sore throat, headache and muscle aches.

Frances McDonald, a registered nurse with the St. John the Baptist ParishHealth Unit, said flu shots will be given beginning Tuesday to the elderly ages 65 or older and high-risk persons under age 65. McDonald said highrisk persons include anyone who has a serious long-term health problem, including heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease and metabolic disease, such as diabetes, anemia and other blood disorders.

McDonald said the vaccination builds up a person’s immunity to influenza even if they are not high risk. Protection develops one to two weeks afterthe shot and may last up to a year.

According to a fact sheet provided by the health unit regarding flu vaccines, people of any age can get influenza. Most people are sick withthe illness for only a few days, but some get much sicker an may need to be hospitalized. The flu causes thousands of deaths each year, mostlyamong the elderly.

McDonald said people at risk for getting a serious case of influenza or complications – or people in close contact with them – should get the vaccine. Area health units only caters to those who are at high risk for theflu, and others who want the vaccination will have to go to a private doctor, she said.

It is recommended that residents of long term care facilities housing persons with chronic medical conditions be vaccinated as well as anyone whose immune system is weakened because of HIV/AIDS or other diseases that affect the immune system, treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids and cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs.

Also, anyone 6 months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin treatment should be vaccinated because they could develop Reye Syndrome if they catch influenza. Others who should get vaccinated are women who will bemore than three months pregnant during the flu season and physicians, nurses or anyone else coming in close contact with people at risk of serious influenza.

Others who should consider getting the influenza vaccine are people who provide essential community services, travelers to the Southern hemisphere between April and September or those traveling to the tropics any time, students and staff at schools and colleges (to prevent outbreaks) and anyone who wants to reduce their chance of catching influenza.

The best time to get the flu vaccine is between September and December, and a new shot each year is needed. People 9 years of age and older needone shot, and children younger than 9 may need two shots, given one month apart.

Influenza viruses change often, and they might not always be covered by the vaccine, McDonald said. But people who do get influenza despite beingvaccinated often have a milder case than those who did not get the shot.

For high-risk and elderly persons, vaccines will be given in St. John Parishat the Reserve and Edgard Health Units every Monday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.The St. Charles Parish Health Unit will provide vaccinations in November,but the dates and times have not yet been determined.

St. James Parish will cater to high-risk persons at the health units inLutcher and Convent beginning Nov. 6 and every Thursday after that date,and also in Vacherie on every Wednesday after Nov. 6.There is a $5 service charge for the vaccination.

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