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JBSA-Randolph medical professionals encourage annual flu shots

By Robert Goetz | Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Sept. 5, 2012

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — The 2012-13 influenza season will soon be here, so it's time to make plans to receive the flu vaccine, 359th Medical Group health care professionals said.

Capt. (Dr.) Cheryll Clark, 359th Medical Operations Squadron pediatrician, said she encourages all her patients to get a yearly flu shot, saying it offers the best protection against the illness. She said flu season can start as early as September and usually peaks in the winter, but there are cases as late as the springtime.

"From a medical standpoint, it's important for everyone age 6 months and older to receive the vaccine every year unless they have a contraindication to it," Clark said. "In the past, egg allergy was considered a contraindication to influenza vaccination; however, in recent years, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has created guidelines that allow some people with egg allergy to receive the inactivated influenza vaccine. I would encourage patients with a history of egg allergy to discuss with their physician if they meet criteria for influenza vaccination."

Maj. William Lujan, 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight commander, described influenza as a "contagious respiratory illness that may cause mild to serious illness and sometimes even death."

"It is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes," he said.

Common symptoms of the flu include fever or feeling feverish, sore throat, muscle or body aches, fatigue, cough, runny or stuffy nose and headaches.

Lujan said certain populations are at higher risk for flu-related complications, and they include pregnant women, children under 5 years old, people 50 years of age and older, people with chronic medical problems and health care workers, but anyone who becomes sick with influenza runs the risk of serious complications.

Lujan explained why it's important to get the flu vaccine every year.

"As flu viruses are always changing, every year researchers determine which viruses are most likely to cause disease in that season," he said. "The 2012-13 flu vaccine will contain three different influenza viruses: H1N1, H3N2 and an influenza B strain."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H1N1 vaccine virus is the same as the 2011-2012 recommendation, but the recommended influenza H3N2 and B vaccine viruses are different from last year's influenza vaccine.

This year there is another influenza virus making the news and it is called H3N2v - "v" standing for variant. The H3N2v virus is a swine influenza virus with some reported sporadic human cases. The majority of human H3N2v flu cases have been in people that had direct exposure to pigs through agriculture or fairs.

Lujan said the seasonal flu vaccine will not fully protect people against the H3N2v virus, but there are influenza antiviral drugs that can treat the human H3N2v illness.

"These antiviral drugs must be prescribed by a physician," he said.

Lujan said frequent hand washing can also protect against the H3N2 virus.

Col. David Duque, 359th AMDS acting commander, said one of his concerns is that some healthy people do not feel they need to be immunized against influenza.

"They can be a carrier and expose their at-risk relatives - the elderly and the very young - and spread it that way," he said. "That is why it is important to get your flu shot, cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue and practice frequent hand washing."

Department of Defense policy requires immunization of all active-duty and Air Reserve Component personnel against influenza, Clark said.

"All active-duty Air Force and Air Force Reserve component personnel on active military status located on an installation with a medical treatment facility must receive their influenza vaccine through the local MTF," she said.

Clark said TRICARE Prime is continuing its reimbursement program entitling Air Force beneficiaries to receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccines at TRICARE retail network pharmacies at no additional cost.

"If beneficiaries receive influenza and/or pneumococcal vaccines at a TRICARE retail network pharmacy, it is important to provide the MTF with documentation of these vaccinations to ensure accurate immunization records," she said.

Beneficiaries who utilize this TRICARE option should hand-carry, scan and email or fax their immunization record to the clinic. They can email their record to UDG_359MDG_359MDGImmunization@us.af.mil or fax it by first calling the immunizations clinic at 652-3279, then faxing it to 652-3111.

Lujan said people need not be concerned about the safety of the influenza vaccine.

"The safety of the flu vaccine is closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, and millions of flu vaccines are given every year," he said.

The most common side-effects of the vaccine are pain at the injection site, fever, sore throat and a runny nose.

For more information, visit www.flu.gov or www.cdc.gov, call 800-CDC-INFO or contact Randolph Public Health at 652-2456.