The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially announced Sept. 30 as the start for the 2012-13 influenza season. Although health experts say there is no way to know how severe the flu season will be, the county should have enough vaccine doses for those who want them.
Although it is important for people to routinely wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze, the CDC states, vaccination is still the best way to prevent flu infection. The agency recommends people get vaccinated as soon as possible since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop antibodies to protect itself from infection.
“It’s the best protection against the flu,” said Phyllis Coughran, an immunization manager for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Coughran’s eight-county coverage area includes Calhoun County. “We just love for people to come in and use up all the vaccine.”
She said the Calhoun County Health Department recently received more than 1,000 doses of flu vaccine.
“We have an abundance,” Coughran said. “With shortages in previous years, the CDC has recommended giving the vaccine to specific groups first, but this year anyone who wants to avoid the flu can go ahead and get it.”
She added that the Health Department could acquire more vaccine if needed.
Winkler Sims, immunization director for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said there is no way to predict how severe the flu season will be each year.
“We always hope for a mild flu season everywhere ... and hope the strain in the vaccine matches the circulating flu strain,” Sims said.
Still, the severity of the flu season tends to peak in January and February, Sims said.
“In the wintertime, people are more closely confined, kids are at school and people travel a lot for the holidays, so the flu is able to spread a lot,” he said.
In the two weeks since the flu season started, the Department of Public Health has only received sporadic reports of the disease in Marion and Clay counties. Flu symptoms include sore throat, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Those most susceptible to the virus include pregnant women, adults at least 65 years old and people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Like the county, the rest of the state also has a sufficient amount of flu vaccine this year, Sims said.
“With a 4.5 million population in the state, the CDC provided us with 1.3 million doses, which is what we usually get on average each year,” Sims said.
Sims noted that in addition to vaccine provided by public health agencies, private physicians and pharmacies also are expected to have plenty of flu vaccine this year.
Jan Grizzard, pharmacy manager at Winn Dixie in Golden Springs, said her pharmacy has plenty of the vaccine available.
“We got a pretty good supply in anticipation,” Grizzard said. “We do a pretty good flu shot business each year.”
Grizzard said anyone can walk into the pharmacy and get a flu shot without an appointment. The shots are free for people on some insurance plans. Otherwise, the shots cost as little as $24.99, Grizzard said.
Coughran said the county Health Department will hold several flu clinics throughout the year at which people can walk in and receive shots. Otherwise, it is better for residents to make an appointment to get a vaccination, Coughran said.
She said the Health Department accepts Medicare, insurance and Medicaid for people 18 years old or younger to cover the cost of vaccinations. Residents can also pay $15 for a shot.
“However, we don’t deny anyone a flu vaccine if they have an inability to pay,” Coughran said. “There really is no reason that someone who wants a flu shot shouldn’t be able to get one.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.