Debbie Iles, the new director of nursing at the Highland County Health Department, told The Times-Gazette that now is the time to get a flu shot.
“Typically, the influenza season begins in October,” she said. “Then it peaks between December and February, and some scientists say it could linger until next May.”
A recent news report that aired on ABC’s “Good America America” showed how serious having the flu can be. The report stated that last year, 80,000 people died from either the flu or flu-like symptoms. Of those deaths, 180 were children and overall, almost one million people had to be hospitalized because of the virus.
The most recent flu-related death was a lawyer from Fayetteville, N.C. The “Good Morning America” report said that 29- year-old Scarlett Levinson died of complications from the flu at her home on Oct. 2, with her husband discovering her unconscious in the bathroom. The cause of death was described as a heart attack directly related to being ill with the flu.
Last year’s flu deaths were the highest in 40 years.
“It’s important to get the flu shot because those with health issues like cancer or hepatitis are really at risk,” Iles said. “And for the elderly or the very young, the flu can be deadly.”
She told The Times-Gazette that people tend to trivialize the flu, sometimes comparing it with catching a cold. But left untreated, influenza symptoms can escalate quickly to the point of a trip to the emergency room.
“We think as young, healthy people that we’ll simply get over it,” she said. “And that’s usually the case; however, there are so many strains of flu that even if we get the flu shot and we get a different strain than what the shot was for, it will tend to minimize the symptoms and you won’t feel so bad… and you’ll get better quicker.”
The flu vaccine used at the health department is the 2018/2019 Flulaval Quadrivalent, which means each dose contains protection from four different virus strains of influenza recommended for this year’s flu season.
Iles emphasized that contrary to popular belief, a person can’t get the flu from a flu shot.
“We hear that all the time,” she said. “The flu shot is not a live antigen, which means the vaccine doesn’t contain a living influenza virus, so it is scientifically impossible to get the flu from the flu shot.”
She explained it takes about two weeks for the body to build up immunity after the vaccine is administered. If a person came down with the flu after receiving the vaccine, it was because they either had been exposed before getting the shot or shortly afterwards, Iles said, adding that it takes one to four days after being exposed for a person to start displaying flu symptoms.
“So many people feel they can’t afford the flu shot,” she said, “and we want the public to know that everyone can get it, and that we will not turn anyone away here at the health department who either doesn’t have insurance or simply doesn’t have the $25 for it.”
She said major health insurance plans will pay for the vaccination, but there is a program available for those who can’t afford it.
“The federal government has a program called ‘3-seventeen,’” she said, “and it’s available for the underinsured or those without insurance, so with that, you pay nothing and we bill the government.”
The health department is open Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday and Wednesday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Walk-in clinics are available without an appointment Mondays from 1-4 p.m.
Appointments can be made for getting the flu vaccine by calling the Highland County Health Department at 937-393-1941.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.