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North country residents encouraged to get flu vaccine

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Local public health officials are encouraging north country residents to get a flu shot, if they haven’t done so already, following news of two flu-related deaths recently in Onondaga County.

While just a handful of similar cases have been reported locally in the past few years, public health officials insist prevention is the key to remaining healthy through the influenza season. Throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, the season typically lasts from October through March, with the peak occurring about February.

“If you catch it early enough, you can get an antiviral and not get as sick,” said Faith E. Lustik, Jefferson County health planner.

People who have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, asthma or cardiovascular disease, should see their physician if they experience flu-like symptoms, she said. According to the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Control statewide influenza report, for the week ending Jan. 11, of the 105 adults hospitalized throughout the state since October, chronic lung disease, immune suppression, metabolic disorder, neurologic disease, pregnancy and renal disease were identified as underlying medical conditions. Obesity was the top underlying condition for those hospitalized adults.

Ms. Lustik said she could not recall any flu deaths in the past seven years she has been with the Jefferson County Public Health Service.

There is plenty of vaccine available, she said, at the public health agency and at many pharmacies throughout the community. People shouldn’t be discouraged, but rather thankful, if they happen to get the flu after they have received the vaccine, since it lessens severity of symptoms, she said.

“Studies have shown since it’s not a live virus, you can’t get the flu from the vaccine,” Ms. Lustik said. “It’s a good match for what’s circulating now. Don’t get your information from your friends. Read the science behind the vaccination.”

There are many flu types, she said, three of which are included in this season’s vaccine. A deadly strain of the disease, H1N1, is reportedly what killed the two people in Onondaga County. This year’s vaccine targets H1N1.

Kindra E. Cousineau, St. Lawrence County Public Health’s communicable disease coordinator, said it’s also important for people to stay home when they feel ill to help lessen the spread of the virus or other ailments. Keeping active and washing hands will also help people stay healthy, she said.

It takes a minimum of two weeks for someone to build immunity after receiving the flu vaccine.

Mrs. Cousineau said there have been 138 laboratory-confirmed flu cases in St. Lawrence County so far this flu season. In Jefferson County, Ms. Lustik said, there have been 69 laboratory-confirmed cases. Lewis County Supervising Public Health Nurse Marcia M. Ashline said with only 14 laboratory-confirmed cases so far this season throughout Lewis County, residents still should remain focused on prevention.

“We are really trying to encourage anyone who hasn’t had a flu shot, especially younger, healthier people who don’t get one, to” get a shot, she said. “The H1N1 tends to strike the younger people.”

In 2012, there were two flu-related deaths in Lewis County, Mrs. Ashline said, both of whom were elderly residents.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1976 to 2007, “estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.”

Meanwhile, more flu protection is expected to be offered next year, Ms. Lustik said, when a four-strain vaccine will be used to protect people from four types of the virus.

feeling ill?
Here are the common symptoms of influenza:
• Feverish chills
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• Fatigue
• Vomiting and/or diarrhea
Information provided by the U.S. centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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