To flu or not to flu

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 - 19:00
Influenza season is in full swing — have you had your shot yet?
There’s no shortage of flu vaccines this year, according to Donna Fearey of the State of Alaska epidemiologist department. This year’s vaccine targets the H1N1 virus strain. Fearey urges everyone to get vaccinated, since the flu has already caused deaths in healthy adults and middle-aged adults in the Lower 48.

Achy muscles? Sore throat? Tight and raspy chest?

Uh-oh, sounds as if you’re catching the flu.

According to Donna Fearey, State of Alaska nurse epidemiologist, we’re thick in the middle of flu season.

Influenza outbreaks typically pick up in October and November, and holiday travel and social events compound the problem through December and January.

“There’s no way to predict it, but we know it’s on the upswing,” she said.

This year’s predominate culprit is H1N1 Influenza A (swine flu), the same strain that tormented many of us back in 2009.

Fearey, along with the State of Alaska Public Health Department and Centers for Disease Control, recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.

Vaccines are also indicated for older adults, younger children and pregnant women, and those with high-risk medical conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, HIV and kidney or liver diseases.

Or, as Fearey put it, “When the vaccine is available in your community, get it.”

Yet, not everyone does.

“Why don’t they get the vaccine?” she asked. “Some people think, ‘Oh, I never get the flu.’”

Others don’t believe in vaccinations, experience challenges in getting the vaccines or simply don’t think about the flu until they become sick.

Yet, everyone can get influenza.

“Even healthy people can have complications and die from it,” she said, adding that for most people, it will simply make them quite miserable.

While the young and elderly are most at risk, according to Fearey, the H1N1 strain has already caused deaths in healthy adults and middle-aged adults in the Lower 48.


Across the state

Currently, the flu has been reported in every region in Alaska.

December saw approximately 177 reported cases, including 105 in the Anchorage/Mat-Su region, 42 in the Interior and 12 along the Gulf Coast.

Only 47 total cases were reported across Alaska in November.

But how do you know if you have the flu or simply a bad cold?

According to Fearey, a cold lasts for a few days while the flu normally presents an abrupt and often brutal onset and causes more severe illness.

“Get vaccinated,” she repeated. “It’s the single most important thing you can do.”

Other ways to avoid the flu? Cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.

“Influenza is highly contagious and easily transmitted,” Fearey said. “It’s possible that the average person comes into contact with the flu virus during flu season.”

Vaccines are available at grocery stores, pharmacies, public health centers, doctor offices and clinics around town.

For those unable to afford the vaccine, the Municipality of Anchorage offers programs for uninsured and under-insured adults and children.

It takes about two weeks for a flu vaccination to build up the proper immune response.

The good news?

According to Fearey, there are no reported flu vaccine shortages at this time.


Contact Cinthia Ritchie at 694-2727 or [email protected].



Where to get a flu shot

Flu shots are available for Chugiak-Eagle River residents at the following locations:
• Fred Meyer Pharmacy, Monday-Sunday, varying hours, 698-4033
• U.S. HealthWorks, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 694-7223
• Walgreens, Monday-Sunday, varying hours, 696-4000
• Carrs, Monday-Sunday, varying hours, 726-0760

*Individuals allergic to eggs or who have had a severe reaction to previous flu vaccines should check with their doctor before receiving a flu vaccine. An egg-free trivalent shot is available for those 18 through 49 years of age.

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