Health care pros: Get ready for flu season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

By Scott Jenkins
SALISBURY — Bob Casmus admits he’s “not a regular” when it comes to getting an annual flu shot.
“I probably should be, but I’m not,” he said.
But as head athletic trainer at Catawba College, Casmus doesn’t have a choice this year. If he wants to observe the surgeries of student-athletes in his programs, he’s required to get a flu shot.
So Casmus rolled up his sleeve Monday at The Medicine Shoppe on West Innes Street and took his shot. It wasn’t painful, he said. And it didn’t hurt that he’s sweet on the pharmacist who administered it, his wife Teresa.
Teresa Casmus will give shots to all the students in her husband’s sports medicine program, too. They’re also required to get them before they observe surgeries, which is part of their studies.
Last year, they would have gone somewhere else. This is the first time The Medicine Shoppe has offered flu shots. Teresa Casmus said she’s joining medical offices and big chain drug stores “mainly to be a service to my customers.”
And she adds her voice to the chorus heard around this time every year: If more people got the shot, fewer people would get the flu.
Dr. Meredith Bowen of Rowan Family Physicians said she and the other doctors at her practice “advise everyone to get a flu shot.”
Certain groups, including very young children and older adults, pregnant women, people with chronic conditions such as asthma, and those whose weakened immune systems put them at risk for flu-related complications, should consider vaccination a priority, she said.
Bowen said doctors are given no forecast telling them how severe a flu season is likely to be.
“It really depends on whether or not people get vaccinated, and then whether or not people who have the flu stay inside when they’re contagious,” she said. “That helps determine how widespread our flu season is.”
Bowen pointed out that for people who don’t like shots, there’s a nasal mist. But unlike the injection, which is an inactivated, or dead, virus that anyone can take, the mist is a live vaccine and can’t be given to children younger than 2 or adults older than 49, pregnant women, people who aren’t healthy or those who care for people with medical conditions.
People who do get the flu don’t even know it right away. A person can be contagious for a day before showing symptoms, and people who get sick are supposed to stay away from others until 24 hours after their fever goes away without medication.
Since people can pass on the flu before knowing they have it, Bowen said health care providers and nursing home workers should definitely get vaccinated. And she noted the flu vaccine is not given to children younger than 6 months.
“So if you have a baby that’s 6 months or younger, the only way for them to be protected is not to be exposed,” she said.
The flu vaccine given each year is based on the strains seen the previous year, said Casmus, the pharmacist. The Centers for Disease Control says even if the vaccine isn’t a perfect match for the strains that do emerge this season, it will still provide protection.
“The experts predict the vaccine should protect against those strains we expect to get,” said Leonard Wood, director of the Rowan County Health Department.
This year’s shot also contains a vaccine for the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as swine flu. That was added to the seasonal vaccine after the 2009 pandemic that resulted in thousands of deaths.
Unlike previous years, the Health Department isn’t offering flu shot clinics this year. Wood said the department has stocked the vaccine in the past only to be left with large amounts of it when people went to their personal physicians or pharmacies for the shots. The Health Department is vaccinating Rowan residents who come there for their primary health care, he said.
However, Wood said, the state can provide vaccine if it’s needed.
“If we have an outbreak, we’re prepared to do whatever we need to do,” he said.
Like other health care officials and providers, Wood advises anyone who’s eligible for a flu shot to get one. He says, though, that from a public health perspective, he thinks people should wait “as late in the season as they feel comfortable.”
The vaccination lasts around six months, and flu season typically peaks in January or February. Seasonal flu can begin spreading as early as October, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and others recommend an early vaccination.
“It can take up to a couple of weeks for you to develop your immunity, so you shouldn’t wait too late in the flu season,” Bowen said.
Teresa Casmus, the pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe, said she knows of someone who’s already come down with the flu.
“So I know the season is just beginning,” she said.