By Valerie Baldowski
Local residents receiving a flu shot this year should have more protection against the virus than during last year's flu season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu can cause mild to severe illness, and can, in extreme cases, lead to death.
Every year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population catches the flu. More than 200,000 patients are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from the virus.
The flu immunizations given this year will protect against more strains of the virus than the ones given last year, according to Jo Middlebrooks, Infection Control Coordinator for Henry Medical Center (HMC). She said there are several A and B strains of the flu to protect against.
"This year, they've got it right," said Middlebrooks. "The vaccine should protect against those [strains.]"
Last year, the CDC reported, immunizations given did not match all the major types of flu.
Middlebrooks advises anyone needing a flu shot to go to their family physician or the county health department.
Although an immunization shot is not a guarantee people will avoid the virus this year, Middlebrooks said it is still a good idea to get one. "Nothing is 100 percent," she added, "but it should really help,"
The HMC coordinator said that individuals who do not get immunized will stay sick, sometimes, for seven days, if they catch the flu. But those who are immunized only stay sick for about two or three days. Skipping the flu shot is unwise, she said, because the immunization shortens the time between any flu-like symptoms that appear, and the recovery time.
There is no "official" flu season, said Taka Wiley, public information officer for the Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Public Health. "Typically, a season can start as early as November, and as late as May."
Although a flu shot is recommended for most people, Wiley said there are some groups who should avoid them. State health officials recommend that children younger than six months, individuals with allergies to eggs, pregnant women, and individuals 50 years and older living in long-term care facilities should not get a shot.
However, Wiley said children six months old and up, through age 19, are advised to be immunized.
The flu vaccine is still available at the Henry County Health Department, said Hayla Hall, Public Information Officer for District 4 Health Services for the state of Georgia.
Hall said individuals who do not get vaccinated are dependent on the rest of the population who do get immunized, to keep them healthy.