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The Journal Gazette

  • Jenna Miller of Fort Wayne got her first flu shot in several years from Steve McDonald, pharmacy team leader at the Meijer on Lima Road on Friday. (Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

Saturday, December 09, 2017 1:00 am

Flu season expected to pack punch

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Jenna Miller hadn't gotten a flu shot in years.

Miller said she got sick after her first one – seven years ago – and that scared her away from the vaccine.

But Friday morning, Miller, 32, was at Meijer on Lima Road, waiting for the dose that she hopes protects her from influenza as health officials say the U.S. could be in for a tough flu season.

Mindi Wysong, lead pharmacy tech at the store, is Miller's mother and urged her to get the shot. But Miller had another reason to break her string of skipping flu shots.

“My kids went and got one on Tuesday, so I figured I should get one,” she said.

It is tough to predict the severity of flu seasons, but health professionals look to Australia, which now is ending its flu season, to get a sense of what to expect in the U.S.

In Australia, the government reported more than twice the number of confirmed cases of the flu.

It also reported an increase in the number of deaths, compared to 2016.

Ryan Ades, a Meijer pharmacist, said that is all the more reason to get vaccinated.

“We're kind of preparing for the worst,” he said, “and hoping for the best.”

The Indiana State Department of Health on Friday reported the first flu death of the 2017-18 season. The victim was younger than 18, according to a statement from the agency.

The state reported 103 deaths last year. Most of those were people age 65 or older. Fourteen flu-related deaths were reported in Allen County last year.

The shot is made with inactive flu viruses and cannot cause influenza, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, though, and it's possible for people to still get the flu in that time period.

A bigger problem, say local and government health officials, is how few people seek protection from the flu, which is linked to thousands of deaths each year in the U.S. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates fewer than half of people in the U.S. got a flu shot last year. That represented an increase of more than 1 percent from the year before.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, said she is not sure how many people have received the vaccination in Allen County, though local rates typically mirror national numbers. In recent years, more places have begun offering flu shots – pharmacies, health clinics, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health – and that should make it easier for residents to get vaccinated.

“If you're over 6 months old and you're breathing, you should get a flu shot,” McMahan said.

Flu season typically begins in October and November and stretches into the spring, according to the CDC. Influenza cases peak between December and February. 

Steve McDonald, pharmacy team leader, said his store typically receives about 800 flu vaccine doses each year.

About 650 have been administered so far this year, he said.

Along with the vaccine, McMahan said other ways to protect yourself from the flu include washing hands, using hand sanitizer, avoiding contact with someone who is sick and staying home from work or school when you are sick.

Still, she said, a shot is the most effective way to keep the flu at bay.

“Don't wait till after the holidays,” McMahan said. “Put that on your shopping list.”