Influenza season

Vaccination and frequent, proper hand washing help stop spread of flu

By William K. Alcorn


Get your seasonal flu shots now and avoid the rush when the virus arrives in earnest later this fall, public health officials say.

With the exception of the H3N2v (swine) flu associated with fairs this summer and fall, particularly in Indiana and Ohio, influenza cases are relatively few and no one is predicting a pandemic like that caused by the H1N1 virus in 2009.

The Ohio Department of Health identified 107 cases of swine flu. There has been a rapid decrease, however, in the number of cases since Labor Day and only one new case reported since Sept. 14.

But that doesn’t diminish the need to get the seasonal flu vaccination, public health officials say.

A vaccination is the top deterrent to getting and spreading the flu along with frequent, proper hand washing, said Robert Pinti, deputy health commissioner for the Warren City Health Department.

The Community Health Care Initiative has gone to great lengths to show children memorable ways to wash their hands.

“We tell them to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’” Pinti said.

When soap and water are not available to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Dispensers are small enough to keep in a pocket or purse, he added.

Also, it is important that people stay home when they are sick, especially if they work in the food industry. Failure to stay home is how the flu can become an epidemic, Pinti said.

“We used to say wait until November to get a flu shot, believing it was only effective for six months. We were wrong,” said Dr. John Venglarcik, medical director for the Mahoning County District Board of Health. “Research now indicates the vaccine is effective for 10 months to a year, and getting it early will still protect through the entire flu season.”

The flu season is October through April, according to ODH.

This year’s seasonal flu shot contains protection from the H1N1 virus and two other strains of the virus, said Diana M. Colaianni, nursing director for the Mahoning County health department.

The vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Also, people 65 and older should get the high-dose vaccine, Colaianni said.

The normal vaccine administered via needle contains inactivated, or dead, flu virus and cannot cause the flu, although the body may react for 24 hours with a sore arm and maybe a slight fever.

Available this year is a so-called “mini” needle for people 18-64 who are afraid of needles.

Also, healthy, nonpregnant people age 2 to 49 can also get the nasal flu spray mist, which contains live vaccine, the CDC says.

Colaianni said people can get the flu vaccine from their family doctor, numerous pharmacies, and clinics operated by public health departments.

She said her nurses are going to private businesses more than in the past to inoculate employees. They also provide the service to school districts.

“Be a good neighbor. Get the shot,” urged Dr. Venglarcik.

While the seasonal flu season is still on the horizon, the West Niles Virus outbreak is full bore.

The Mahoning Valley has not been hit by West Nile, but as of Monday, the state health department Health reported 89 human cases of WNV in Ohio.

Of the 89 cases, 67 were hospitalized with symptom onset dates from July 10 through Sept. 7. Of the four deaths, the youngest was 4 and the oldest 91.

A perfect storm of weather — a warmer-than-usual and rainy spring, a hot, dry summer and then rain — created conditions ideal for proliferation of the Culex mosquito, the bite of which spreads the virus to humans, said Dr. Richard Gary, ODH entomologist.

Weather conditions this year are similar to those in 2002 when there was a huge WNV outbreak leading to 441 cases in humans and 31 fatalities in Ohio.

To protect yourself from mosquito bites, Dr. Venglarcik said avoid being outdoors at dusk, a prime time for mosquitoes to feed and bite, and wear clothing that covers them from wrists to ankles, including shoes and stockings, and use mosquito repellent.

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