Vaccinations urged to minimize seasonal flu

Temperatures are getting colder. Trees are losing their leaves. The daytime is shorter. In other words, it’s flu season.

Mother Nature’s changes force people to bring out the Kleenex and cough medicine.

So far, the 2012-13 flu season is off to a quiet start in the U.S., including Illinois, which has yet to report any flu activity, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that doesn’t mean people in McHenry County and elsewhere should risk not getting an annual flu shot, local health professionals said.

“With any shot, it’s really like boot camp for your body,” said Dr. Iran Hafiz, an infectious disease physician at Centegra Health System. “Your body gets a taste of what the disease is like so it has enough time to prepare in advance for when the real flu comes along.”

The seasonal flu is a viral respiratory infection that can be life-threatening in some cases. The elderly and chronically ill people are especially susceptible to serious flu complications.

Although unpredictable, flu season typically peaks in the winter months of January and February, the CDC said. Flu vaccine manufacturers nationwide already have supplied roughly 149 million doses to health care providers this year, up from the 132 million doses produced last year.

People should use this time to get properly vaccinated because it takes roughly two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and protect against flu symptoms, Hafiz said.

Vaccines are widely available. Centegra provides walk-in flu shots for $30, seven days a week, and offers immunization for admitted patients.

Mercy Medical Center in Woodstock also accepts walk-ins seven days a week. Flu shots there cost $29. The hospital already has given 100 shots to patients and hashundreds of more doses of vaccine in stock.

The CDC recommends vaccination for people 6 months or older, regardless of health condition.

The vaccine is produced in three forms, including a nasal spray for those who are anxious about a needle injection.

People generally shouldn’t have an excuse to forgo vaccination, especially because the disease is highly contagious, said Dr. Nathan Kakish, a family physician at Mercy. Flu, he said, is “the No. 1 preventable vaccinated disease that we have right now.”

The McHenry County Department of Health already has used most of its 1,000 flu vaccine doses. The department has a final flu clinic for the year for people 9 years and older on Wednesday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the McHenry County Government Center, Building A, 2200 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock.

The cost is $30; Medicaid and Medicare Part B will be accepted. To make an appointment, call 815-334-4931.

Typical flu symptoms are fever, cough, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, shaking and chills. Local physicians stressed the importance of preventing the spread of flu by good hygiene, such as washing hands and covering coughs.

“Prevention is key, that’s why it’s important to get the shot,” said Meaghan Haak, the health department’s health promotion coordinator. “If you are sick, people should wash their hands, cover their cough, because influenza is highly contagious.”

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