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NEWS | Dec. 18, 2017

Influenza activity increasing, but flu shot a key step in prevention

By Robert Goetz 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that influenza activity is increasing across Texas and the United States, but it appears active-duty members and other beneficiaries at Joint Base San Antonio are taking the initial step to protect themselves against the flu.

They are receiving their annual flu shot – which the CDC recommends as the first and most important step in preventing the infectious disease that typically peaks between December and February.

“The Department of Defense sets a goal of a 90 percent influenza vaccination rate by Dec. 15 for active-duty members,” said Maj. Randi Hamm, 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight commander. “We’ve achieved that goal at the three major JBSA locations.”

In addition to ensuring active-duty members are immunized, JBSA clinics target the high-risk population, Hamm said. These are children 6 months to 5 years old, pregnant women, beneficiaries over 65 years of age or who have medical conditions that make them more at-risk for hospitalization.

“At the JBSA-Randolph clinic, 78 percent of our high-risk patients have been vaccinated,” she said. “There may be more out there who have received their flu shots but have not reported it yet.”

An 80-90 percent vaccination rate for the entire base community is also a goal, Hamm said.

“This helps establish herd immunity and protects the community, even those unvaccinated, from an influenza outbreak,” she said.

Although seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round, flu activity is most common during the fall and winter months, according to the CDC.

This season’s flu vaccine protects against two types of influenza A – the H1N1 and H3N2 viruses – as well as an influenza B virus strain.

“This year’s surveillance finds influenza A viruses are most common and genetically similar to virus types in this year’s vaccine,” Hamm said.

The CDC is again recommending only injectable flu shots this year, she said.

“The nasal spray is no longer used at our clinics,” Hamm said. “Shots have been found to be more effective.”

Not everyone should receive the flu shot, she said.

“People who should not be vaccinated are those who are younger than 6 months old, who have an allergy to vaccine components or who have had an allergic reaction to flu vaccine in the past,” Hamm said.

In addition, people who are sick should wait until they are well to receive the flu shot, she said.

Because flu viruses circulate in places where people are in close proximity and are transmitted by contact or by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk, good hygiene is another important preventive measure.

“To keep the flu away, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer, cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick and have a plan to care for sick family members at home,” Hamm said.

Described by the CDC as “a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs,” the flu can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

Although flu immunizations begin in the early fall, it’s not too late to receive a flu shot, Hamm said. With rare exception, everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins.

At military installations, influenza prevention helps ensure mission readiness.

“We want our active-duty members to be vaccinated so they don’t lose duty time and impact the mission,” she said. “For our high-risk population, we want them to be immunized so they don’t get sick and have to be hospitalized.”

JBSA immunization clinic phone numbers are: JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 916-3077 for pediatrics and 916-3011 for adults; JBSA-Lackland, 292-2345; and JBSA-Randolph, 652-3279.