Not too late to get flu shot for the season

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014


FRANKLIN—Although the flu season is starting to peak, there’s still time to get vaccinated. That’s advice from Dr. Nancy Welch, acting director of the Western Tidewater Health District, which includes Franklin, Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton; she’s also the director of the Chesapeake District.

“It’s definitely here, and the Western Tidewater Health District responded as in Chesapeake and the rest of the state,” said Welch. “There are no specific test results for the type of flu going around, but I feel with a great deal of certainty that H1N1 is primarily among them.”

She recalled that H1N1, often referred to as swine flu, was “a big problem” in 2009.

“The good news is there was an anticipation of that virus returning and it’s in the vaccine this year. That’s excellent news,” said Welch.

She said that strain affects the younger population more than people over age 65.

“That’s its nature.”

Although the director again repeated that there’s still time for people to receive their vaccine, she added a caveat.

“The vaccination contains a killed virus,” said Welch. “It cannot transmit that disease.”

But it takes two weeks to develop that protection, which is a window of opportunity. Any exposure to a flu virus can still cause sickness, though not necessarily as severe because of the vaccination. When people get sick soon after receiving a shot, they think it’s because of the vaccine.

“The vaccination is 85 percent effective,” she said. “Nothing’s 100 percent effective, but it’s a whole lot better than zero.

“My main concern is that people are protected.”

Although the shot is a major way to prevent the flu, said Welch, “I cannot undercut the value of washing hands. It’s vitally important to frequently wash your hands. Sometimes such a simple way means that we discount its value. But it is very, very valuable.”

That practice, among others, is also urged by Alice Stutts, RN, infection preventionist at Southampton Memorial Hospital. She and the hospital employees get free vaccinations.

“Wash your hands frequently. Wipe doorknobs, grocery carts and telephones,” she said. “It makes a lot of difference. The main thing is to cover your cough, stay away from people who are ill and get your flu shot. It’s not too late to get your shot.”

Stutts, who said she’s never had the flu, has seen a gradual increase in the number of cases since the season began in early October.

“Twelve people tested in October through the hospital or emergency room, but none were positive. There were 20 in November, but only one positive; 73 in December and 10 positive; and so far in January 74 tested with 17 positive,” said Stutts. “There were two admissions to the hospital with flu, but they had other factors going on at the time.”

The hospital is not banning visitors but is requesting people not to bring “the whole family to visit sick ones,” she said, adding that masks, tissues and disinfectants such as foam and jell dispensers are available.

“Some people don’t know they have it [the flu virus], but it hits you suddenly,” added Stutts.

Another place that takes precautions to prevent the spread of flu and other diseases is The Children’s Center.

Jeff Zeigler, community relations coordinator, said the staff gets annual training in October and a good number of them get the free vaccination, which has been offered for at least five years, maybe more.

“We feel that’s pretty important,” he said. “The caregivers don’t want to give the flu to the children, and that works the other way around.”

“Other things we do are to make sure our employees are very aware of handwashing – both for their sake and the children’s,” Zeigler continued. “We also have signs in and around the bathrooms.”