After the extended impact created by the H1N1 flu virus in 2009, predicting the flu season has become near impossible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity commonly peaks during the winter months of January and February, but seasonal flu activity can start as early as October and last deep into May.
Because of the out-of-season cases of flu reported three years ago during the H1N1 strain, the CDC now recommends health officials begin administering flu vaccinations as soon as the flu-strain counteragent is made available, said W.W. Hastings Hospital Dr. Brandon Taylor.
“It’s pretty interesting the H1N1 virus of 2009 really changed the way that we focus on vaccinating patients. It was usually done by region, based on when it was predicted based on patterns of history when you should immunize. Well, H1N1 changed that,” he said.
“You may recall it was all year long, all the time, and so the recommendations have changed. As soon as you have vaccine, you should start administering it. You’ve seen here in town all the pharmacies offer it, and we’re in September. That’s normal and that’s OK. And that’s recommended by the CDC.”
The CDC recommends anyone over the age of 6 months and older get a flu shot. The W.W. Hastings Hospital free flu vaccination clinic, which is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the hospital’s cafe, is for Cherokee Nation citizens and other tribal health patients began Sept. 17 and will conclude this Thursday, Sept. 28. A spokesperson for the Cherokee County Health Department reported flu vaccinations have not been received, but will be informing the community of its availability at a later date.
“We’ve done it a week already, and we’ve administered almost 700 vaccines,” said Taylor. “We have had at least one case of the flu here locally. Again, it’s a little but unusual to see it this early, but it’s becoming more and more common to see cases of the flu in August and September.”
Each year, experts from the Food & Drug Administration, World Health Organization, the CDC and other institutions study virus samples collected from around the world to identify the flu viruses that are likely to cause illness during the current flu season.
Taylor said this year’s vaccine formulation is expected to deliver the protection intended.
“There’s no predicted concern like we had with the H1N1 virus in 2009. It appears the vaccine this year is very effective and it’s going to cover all the ones that we’re concerned about,” he said. “The vaccine is the easiest and safest way to prevent a person from contracting the illness, and if they do get it, then the symptoms will be less severe and the patient will recover faster.”
And it’s a superstition that getting a flu shot will make a person sick, Taylor said.
“That really is a myth. Certainly the flu vaccine is tailored to hit specific strains of the influenza virus every year, and the vaccine can vary from year to year,” he said. “So that’s not to say that it covers every strain of the flu that’s out there. If the patient gets sick after receiving the vaccine, it’s most likely that they got a different strain of the virus. That’s what’s making them sick, if it is indeed influenza. It could have been another upper respiratory issue or some other bacterial infection. It’s a complete myth that a person that gets the vaccine will get sick with the flu.”
Another flu concern reported on by the Oklahoma State Department of Health is the swine flu. Though there has yet to be a case of the swine flu, or H3N2v, identified in the state, the OSDH reported that 224 cases of swine flu nationwide have been documented since July 12.
In a press release earlier this month, the Tahlequah City Hospital offered some preventative measures when visiting agriculture exhibits at county and state fairs, most notably to avoid touching any surface that may be contaminated with remnants of a cough or sneeze containing the flu virus.
“Pigs can get the flu just like humans,” said TCH Chief of Staff Dr. Brent Rotton. “The virus can easily spread from pigs to people, but it doesn’t seem to spread as easily from person to person.”
According to the TCH press release, the bulk of the identified cases of the swine flu reported have occurred in children under the age of 18.
Swine flu symptoms are similar to those commonly associated with the seasonal flu in that a person may experience fever, coughing, soreness of the throat, body aches and headaches.
Other reported symptoms included diarrhea and vomiting, especially in younger children. Of the 224 national cases reported, eight required hospitalization while one death was reported.
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