Local health services see flu vaccination demand surge





With reports of widespread cases of influenza this flu season, local clinics and pharmacies that offer vaccinations for the virus have seen an influx of people seeking flu shots.

The typical flu season is from October through March, but with recent reports indicating higher-than-normal flu cases in Kansas and nationwide, there has been a surge in people seeking vaccinations locally.

"The health department still has the flu vaccine in stock," Ashley Goss, executive director of the Finney County Health Department, said. "We have seen an increase just this week of those needing a flu shot."

Diana Machotka, marketing and recruitment coordinator at United Methodist Mexican American Ministries, said that clinic has seen an increase in acute viral illnesses and that they currently have about 40 vaccinations available, which are strictly for current patients of the clinic.

While the Garden Pharmacy, 701 East Kansas Plaza, doesn't offer flu vaccinations, owner and pharmacist Dick Monical said that he has seen a recent increase in customers experiencing flu symptoms.

"We've been seeing some of them with scripts for Tamiflu, quite a bit of that, suddenly this week, and that hadn't been moving at all until now. Before that, there was one in a blue moon," Monical said.

Tamiflu is an antiviral medication used to treat flu symptoms caused by influenza and is available by prescription only.

"Supposedly it gets you through faster," he said, adding that there also are side effects associated with the medicine.

Joyce Lang, infection preventionist at St. Catherine Hospital, said the hospital pharmacy currently has plenty of vaccine available, but that it is only for patients being admitted to the hospital.

"We do have plenty here at the hospital but what we do, as patients are admitted, they are assessed for whether or not they've had the flu vaccine and if they have not, we offer it to them," Lang said. "They aren't available for just anybody to come in and get one."

Goss said the state doesn't require the county to report the number of flu cases, so there was no data available about the number of flu cases locally this flu season, but she said there has been a significant number of flu-related deaths statewide.

"There have been 460 deaths in Kansas so far this flu season," Goss said. "These deaths are from complications associated with the flu.¬ Last year's (total) flu season saw 1,300 deaths in Kansas from complications associated with the flu."

In a Jan. 9 press release from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, State Health Officer Dr. Robert Moser said the peak for influenza-related cases typically hits in February.

"The rates we are observing now are higher and earlier than what we usually see," Moser said. "Let's not forget that influenza is unpredictable and can continue to circulate through spring."

Symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration; influenza also may worsen other chronic conditions.

Polly Witt, director of health services at Garden City USD 457, said that just before Christmas, about 3 percent of students in the district had illnesses. While not all were the flu, Witt said some students displayed stomach flu symptoms like diarrhea and nausea, while others had fevers and body chills.

"I don't know of any students who were diagnosed with influenza, but since Christmas, I would say we're seeing a lot less than we were before Christmas," Witt said. "So, if anything, Christmas break gave us a good break to get people home and hopefully getting well, and I still encourage people that it's not too late to get the flu shot. I do think it makes a difference."

Goss said there are things people should know about flu vaccinations.

"It's important to remember that not everyone can have a flu shot.¬ Infants under 6 months of age, can't receive the vaccine.¬ Elderly people and those with compromised immune systems are¬ groups that are at a higher risk of complication if they contract the flu. It's¬ extremely important to get a flu shot if you are providing care¬ for these people or spend a lot of time with them," she said. "Those needing a flu shot, may come by any time for a flu shot during our regular business hours.¬ This is on a walk-in basis."

Retail pharmacies, such as Dillons, Walgreens and Walmart offer vaccinations, while many local doctors do, as well.

"I would recommend calling your provider before going in for a flu shot to see if they still have the vaccine available," Goss said.

For more information about influenza, visit www.kdheks.gov/flu or contact the Finney County Health Department at 272-3600.

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