With the 2018-19 influenza season in its early stages, Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) representatives say flu vaccines are the best available weapon in the ongoing fight against flu.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
Reggie McClinton, a WDH epidemiologist, said the most recently completed flu season was highly severe in Wyoming. “Unfortunately, we saw at least 27 flu-related deaths according to Vital Statistics Services data, mostly among older residents. This number is much higher than what is typically reported in our state,” McClinton said.
“Last season should serve as a reminder to all of us that flu is a serious illness,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state epidemiologist and state health officer with WDH. “Influenza may be familiar, but should never be overlooked or accepted as a minor problem. We see serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths due to flu every season.”
“Nearly everyone six months or older should get a seasonal flu vaccine. Flu shots are safe and the most important action people can take to help prevent getting ill with influenza and passing it on to others,” she said. “In addition to helping you avoid the flu in the first place, vaccines can also help make illnesses less severe for those who do still get sick.”
Harrist said vaccines are especially important for certain groups:
- People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease; and people 65 years and older.
- Healthcare workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk people.
- People who live with or care for infants because babies younger than 6 months are at high risk, but are too young to be vaccinated.
Harrist said anyone can get the flu and healthy people usually recover. “But they can also spread the virus to others who may be more vulnerable such as the elderly,” she added.
Influenza vaccines are available in many locations, including local public health nursing offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and retail stores. “Flu vaccines are not expensive and most insurance policies cover them,” Harrist said.
Wyoming’s Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program provides influenza vaccines for eligible children including those who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or American Indian or Alaska native children. Underinsured children are eligible at public health nursing offices.
It takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection. “We don’t want people to wait until the family, friends and coworkers around them are ill to decide it’s time for their flu shot,” Harrist said.
Harrist noted a nasal mist vaccine option has returned for this season. “There are also shots designed to protect against the three or four flu strains experts expect to be most common during the season, in addition to higher-dose vaccines for older adults,” she said.
Basic common-sense measures can also slow the spread of influenza such as covering the mouth and nose with sleeves or tissues when sneezing and coughing; frequently washing hands; and staying home from work, school, day care and errands when ill.