By Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
TACOMA, WA – Holiday gatherings are a great time to socialize with family and friends, but make sure you’re spreading good cheer, and not the flu.
“Even healthy people can get the flu because it’s highly contagious,” said Nigel Turner, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s communicable disease division director. “Vaccination is the best thing people can do to protect themselves and their families against the flu. We are already starting to see influenza cases in Pierce County, so if you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to get your flu shot,” he said.
When more people are immunized against the flu, it also helps to protect vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals, according to Turner.
Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, sick days—and it can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone six months and older. Some children under nine may need two doses about a month apart. Getting a flu shot is especially important for people at high-risk, including children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurologic conditions. Babies under six months are too young to get vaccinated, but people in close contact with babies should get vaccinated to protect the infants.
It’s also important to get the flu shot annually. Each year, the formulation of the shot uses several flu viruses that are expected to circulate that season.
Flu vaccines are available at many locations including health care professional’s offices, pharmacies, and some local health agencies. The Department distributes free flu vaccine for children to medical providers throughout Pierce County. Talk to your medical provider for more information.
The health department publishes an extensive calendar of free and low-cost vaccination clinic opportunities for children as well as links to providers of free or low-cost flu shot providers for adults on its web site at www.tpchd.org/flu. In addition, the department regularly partners with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Immunization Services and the Franciscan Health System to offer free vaccination clinics for children. You can also check the flu vaccine finder to find out where to get flu vaccine in your community.
In addition to getting the flu shot, other steps you can take to prevent or reduce the spread of the influenza virus include:
· Wash your hands—Frequent and proper hand washing is one the most effective ways to reduce the spread of germs. Wash with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t easily accessible.
· If you’re sick, stay home—Viruses such as the flu spread quickly. Don’t share your germs with coworkers and classmates.
· Cover your cough—Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand, to cover your cough.
· Keep it clean—Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephone handsets, computer key boards and mice, and other surfaces that you frequently touch.
Health officials say that it’s impossible to predict the severity of any flu season, but the season usually begins in October and lasts through the end of April. In the Northwest, the flu typically begins to circulate in December and peak activity usually occurs between late January and March.
Unlike pertussis, medical providers aren’t required to report cases of flu to the Health Department, so the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department monitors influenza activity through laboratory data, hospital emergency room and urgent care information, school absenteeism and other health surveillance methods.
For more information on the flu, to download an FAQ on the flu shot, and find free and low cost flu shot providers, visit www.tpchd.org/flu.