Elderly more at risk for flu


Influenza vaccines still available at local pharmacies.

Influenza vaccines still available at local pharmacies.



State health officials are encouraging older adults, in particular, to avoid getting the flu by getting an influenza vaccine or to seek treatment if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

"Flu season has arrived earlier and impacted more people than in recent years," Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Sec. Shawn Sullivan said. "We want older adults to know how to avoid getting sick, and we want them to see the doctor quickly if they do become sick."

Because of there being more widespread cases of influenza this flu season and because of the risks posed to the elderly, local pharmacies continue to provide the vaccination.

Dillons West Pharmacy Manager Saneel Kulkarni said that after experiencing higher-than-usual demand for the vaccine this flu season, their corporate office recently ordered another supply.

"Just because of the reports throughout the U.S., I've had people come over saying they never bothered taking the vaccine regularly, but this year they wanted to start," Kulkarni said. "Last year, we ended up returning half of the flu shots we ordered because they are only good for one season. This year, we used everything we had and ordered another 100 ... I have about 95 doses left."

Other area pharmacies also report that there are still plenty of flu vaccines available. Dillons East, 1305 E. Kansas Ave., had 50 doses available as of press time, and a Walgreens pharmacy employee said that there is still plenty of the vaccine available there, as well.

According to a news release from KDADS, both flu-related hospitalizations and flu-related deaths have been on the increase across the state. In Kansas, so far this flu season (from October 2012 until now), approximately 640 people have died because of flu and/or pneumonia-related complications.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser said that this particular flu season is taking a heavy toll on people 65 and older, across the country.

"Seeing your doctor at the first signs of the flu can help prevent serious complications such as pneumonia," Moser said.

The KDHE also monitors the percentage of individuals seeking medical care in selected outpatient clinics who exhibit influenza-like illness (ILI), in a system known as ILINet. Currently, 5 percent of Kansans are showing flu-like symptoms.

Flu symptoms include the following:

* Fever or feeling of feverish/chills (not everyone with the flu will have a fever)

* Dry cough

* Sore throat

* Fatigue

* Muscle or body aches

* Runny or stuffy nose

* Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

Aside from getting the vaccine, there are other ways to avoid getting the flu:

* Get the influenza vaccine

* Wash hands frequently

* Avoid contact with those who are sick

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

* Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs

To avoid spreading the flu:

* Avoid contact with others if you are sick (stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities)

* Cover coughs and sneezes

* Wash hands frequently

Kulkarni said that children 6 months and older also should be vaccinated.

"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does recommend all children above 6 months of age to receive the vaccination and that people who are at the highest risk of flu-related complications are children between ages 2-5, adults 65 and over, pregnant women, American Indians and Alaska natives," he said.

He also said that influenza vaccinations can cause some side effects, including muscle soreness or swelling at the injection site.

"Other than that, the most common side effects are sometimes a low cough, headache, itching, fatigue or fever. They usually last about one to two days, and they begin right after the shot," he said.

For those who just can't stomach the idea of getting a shot, Kulkarni also said that there is also an intra-nasal spray available.

"The flu mist, which is the intra-nasal, is approved for healthy people from 2 to 49 years of age," he said.

In a prior interview, Ashley Goss, executive director of the Finney County Health Department, said that infants under 6 months of age cannot 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," Goss said.

For more information on staying healthy during the flu season, visit the KDHE Seasonal Influenza webpage at www.kdheks.gov/flu/index.html.

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