Health care experts urge flu vaccination
Summer is barely in the rear-view mirror and the leaves have hardly begun to change, yet it's already time to start worrying about a fall and winter health scourge -- the flu. The good news is this year's crop of flu shots provides more choices than ever.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral illness marked by such symptoms as fever, chills, aches and fatigue. Though its season typically starts in October, many chain drugstores are already offering flu shots, and most hospitals and health departments in the region have either started doling them out or will in the near future. Bridgeport Hospital, for example, recently started providing vaccine through its outpatient clinics.
"Everybody should get a flu shot," said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital."
Kristen duBay Horton, director of health and social services for the city of Bridgeport, agreed. She said the city hasn't gotten its supply of flu vaccine yet, but she expects it within the next few weeks. DuBay Horton said, there should be no question about getting a shot. "Flu kills," she said. Flu shots are covered by most health insurance policies. In addition to clinics and health departments, drug chains like Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid offer the vaccine as well. Those chains have provided the shots since August.
"October is generally the busiest month for flu shots, but we did have people come in August," said Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn.
Typically, flu vaccines protect patients against two strains of influenza A and one of influenza B. This year, about a quarter of the shots will protect against four strains -- two of A and two of B. This vaccine, known as quadrivalent, is best for older patients or those with compromised immune systems, Saul said.
Though the shot still has limited availability, Saul predicted wider use in the future. "The idea is to protect against as many strains as possible," he said.
Another addition this year is a vaccine that's safe for people with egg allergies. In the past, they couldn't get a flu shot, as the vaccine is typically made using a virus grown in eggs. This year, there is a shot made using animal cells that is safe with egg allergies.
There should be enough vaccine for everyone in Connecticut who wants it, said state Department of Public Health spokeswoman Diana LeJardi. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, manufacturers expect to produce between 135 million and 139 million doses.
No one knows how severe this season will be, LeJardi said. Last season, the illness started circulating early and hit its peak earlier than usual. Meanwhile, 9,000-plus cases were reported -- more than nine times the previous year.
"Sometimes, people wait until they start seeing flu activity," she said. "But that way you can put yourself at higher risk for exposure."
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More InformationWant to get a shot?
If you want to get vaccinated against the flu, but aren't sure who is offering the flu shot in your area, call the state Immunization Program at 860-509-7929 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, for help finding a community provider. You can also find a flu-shot provider near you by visiting http://flushot.healthmap.org/.