Germ warfare: Take your best shot against the flu

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

You know the drill. The flu vaccine is one of your best weapons against the virus.
“The smartest course is to get the vaccination before it shows up,” said Saltillo family physician Dr. Marcus Ueltschey. “It takes about two weeks to get maximum immunity.”
The flu season is cranking up. The Mississippi State Department has already confirmed cases of influenza. The Centers for Disease Control currently rates flu activity in Mississippi as sporadic.
Historically, flu season peaks in Mississippi between late December and February, but the flu can strike almost anytime. The severity of the flu varies widely from year to year, but thousands of people die from complications of the disease every year in the United States.
“The unpredictability of it makes it that much more urgent for people to get the flu shot early,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi state epidemiologist. “Just because last year was light, doesn’t mean this year will be light. … People don’t need to be complacent.”
There’s a huge variety of places to get the flu vaccine, including county health departments, clinics and pharmacies
“The venues for getting flu shots have exploded,” Ueltschey said. “That has really helped. It’s just more convenient.”
The annual NMMC Live Well Health Fair will once again offer free flu shots from noon to 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Tupelo Furniture Market Building V. Each year, NMMC gives out thousands of flu shots for free with the assistance of health department nurses.
“We’ve got a good supply,” said Liz Dawson, director of the North Mississippi Medical Center community health department, which organizes the event.
The flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, but it is especially important for certain groups who are particularly at risk for complications of the flu or take care of those at high risk:
• Pregnant women.
• Seniors over 65.
• People with chronic conditions that compromise their immune and respiratory systems like diabetes, asthma and HIV.
• People living in nursing homes.
• Parents of infants, caregivers for infants and the elderly and health care workers.
How it works
The flu vaccine is adjusted every year to cover the three strains of flu most likely to be in circulation. This year’s vaccine features two type A viruses – an H1N1 “swine flu” strain and an H3N2 strain, and a strain of the B virus that was identified in 2010 in Wisconsin.
“The shot uses proteins from the flu virus to generate immunity to the different strains,” Dobbs said. “It can’t give you the flu.”
The nasal vaccine uses a weakened version of the virus and is recommended only for people ages 2 to 49 who aren’t pregnant or don’t have respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD.
“Children and young adults seem to get a better immune response from the nasal vaccine,” Dobbs said, which is available for those 18 and under through the health department.
Because the flu vaccine manufacturing process uses eggs, people with severe egg allergies shouldn’t receive the vaccine.
“If it’s a mild allergy, they can receive a shot under more supervision,” Ueltschey said.
Live Well health fair
This year, Live Well turns 16 and has played a significant role in improving the health of Tupelo and the region.
“It was the start of a culture change,” said Dawson, who is the co-chairwoman of the Healthy Tupelo Task Force, which spearheaded many of the projects highlighted in Tupelo’s selection for the BlueCross BlueShield Healthiest Hometown award this summer.
Every year, between 6,000 and 7,000 people come out to take advantage of the resources the Live Well Health Fair pulls together.
“It’s like a community festival,” Dawson said.
Along with the flu shots, 50 community agencies and hospital departments will have health information. Excel by 5, Health Help, the Healthy Tupelo Task Force and NEWMS are among the new agencies presenting this year.
As a healthy treat – and something to look forward to after a flu shot – kids will be able to run HealthWorks! Rail Yard obstacle course from 4 to 7 p.m.
There will also be free and low-cost health screenings. PSA blood tests will be available for $20. Lipid panel and blood sugar tests will be available for $5.
“That’s a deal,” Dawson said.
Bone density tests will be available for those who have not previously been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
If you get the flu
The flu is usually marked by a sudden onset of fever, muscle aches and respiratory symptoms, Ueltschey said. A cold, by contrast, is usually more gradual.
Anti-viral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza can shorten the duration and moderate the symptoms if given early enough.
After checking in with your doctor, the best course of action is to stay home from work and school, get plenty of rest and fluids.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com

NMMC LIVE WELL HEALTH FAIR
WHEN: Noon to 7 p.m. Nov. 13

WHERE: Tupelo Furniture Market, Building V, Coley Road

WHAT’S BEING OFFERED: Flu shots, health screenings, information.

EXTRA: HealthWorks! activities from 4 to 7 p.m.

INFO: Call (800) 843-3375

OTHER FLU SHOT RESOURCES

COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENTS: Vaccines for adults are $25. Vaccines for children 18 and younger are $10. The nasal vaccine is also
available for kids 2 and up who meet the guidelines.

CLINICS: Flu shots are widely available from health care providers. North Mississippi Medical Clinics are offering the shots for $25.

PHARMACIES: Most pharmacies now offer flu shots on demand.