JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
“A shot in the arm protects you from harm” proclaims a poster at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Medical Clinic.
It’s that time of year – the beginning of autumn and the onset of flu season – when health care professionals strongly encourage people 6 months and older to receive their annual flu shot.
“Influenza is a potentially serious disease,” said Dr. (Maj.) April Woody, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Pediatric and Immunization Clinics medical director. “Getting vaccinated not only protects yourself, but may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.”
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that can be spread by coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its symptoms range from cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose to muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Fever can also be a symptom, though it does not affect everyone who has the flu.
Influenza most often results in missed work and school days, Woody said, but it can also lead to hospitalization and even death.
“Every year we see influenza-associated hospitalizations and many complications secondary to influenza infection across all age groups,” she said. “The highest hospitalization rate is among adults age 65 years and older, followed by adults ages 50-64 and children younger than 5 years.”
Woody said she expects the flu vaccine to arrive at the JBSA-Randolph clinic sometime in October. This year’s trivalent, or three-component, vaccine will protect against two different influenza A strains, H1N1 and H3N2, and an influenza B strain, while the quadrivalent vaccine will protect against those three strains as well as an additional influenza B strain.
The CDC recommends either vaccine, she said.
“Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination,” Woody said. “These antibodies provide protection against infection with the virus strains that are in the vaccine.”
The vaccine will first be administered to active-duty members, said Staff Sgt. Hakeem Smith, 359th MDOS Immunization Clinic NCO in charge.
“Our active-duty population is the first priority, but the vaccine will be available for all beneficiaries,” he said. “The Defense Health Agency director’s goal is to achieve coverage for 90 percent of military personnel by Dec. 15.”
People should be vaccinated against influenza before flu viruses begin spreading in their communities, Woody said.
“CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible,” she said. “Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.”
People who should not receive a flu shot are children younger than 6 months of age and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, Woody said.
Because the influenza virus can be spread by coughing, sneezing and nasal secretions, health care professionals also recommend practicing good personal hygiene.
People should wash their hands often, cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.