The flu season usually hits around January or February in our area

by: RON HALVORSON - Health care worker Becky Lundgren receives a flu shot from Mindy Stomner, RN.

Piles of leaves, crisp, cool mornings, and trucks piled high with firewood are but a few of the signs that Prineville is in the loose grip of fall.

Other reliable indicators of autumn are placards advertising the ready availability of flu shots — invitations for those willing to partake, and warnings for the rest.

Indeed, the influenza season is just around the corner, and if Mindy Stomner had only one thing to say, it would be this: “It is not too late to get flu shots.”

Stomner, a registered nurse with the Crook County Health Department (CCHD), has reason for her resolve — she’s also the county’s immunization coordinator.

“We haven’t seen any ailments here, just yet, which is good,” she said. “We usually see our flu season about January or February. You still have plenty of time to get vaccinated and get protected.”

Even for those who don’t get immunized before the start of the flu season — and it takes about two weeks after a shot for the protection to kick in — immunization later in the season is better than not at all.

“We encourage flu shots anytime, because flu is such a horrible disease, and so we recommend it up to next June. We don’t stop immunizing. We just want everybody to get protected before we start seeing that disease, but that disease can be intermittent all throughout the year. So we do immunize as long as we can.”

Stomner said everyone six months of age and up should get a vaccination. It’s especially important for society’s senior segment, according to Oregon’s Department of Human Services (DHS).

“Senior citizens are particularly susceptible to seasonal influenza. Most hospitalizations and deaths from the seasonal flu occur in people over the age of 65 who have underlying medical conditions.”

DHS goes on to say that it’s usually not the flu that’s the problem, but rather the secondary illness, such as pneumonia — the “leading killer of seniors who contract the flu.”

According to DHS statistics, 379 Oregonians died of influenza/pneumonia in 2012.

Flu shots are available at many of the pharmacies in town, Stomner said, as well as from CCHD, and other health care providers. For the squeamish, a nasal spray is available for healthy people ages two through 49 years, who are not pregnant, according to DHS.

Some people are deterred from getting flu shots because of concern about contracting the disease from the treatment.

“It does not give you the flu,” countered Stomner. “That’s a big message, because they think a flu shot’s going to make them sick, but it’s a dead germ vaccine, so it can't make them sick.”

A little local soreness or achiness is generally the only reaction, if any, she said.

Along with seniors, it’s also critical that health care providers receive their vaccinations. Becky Lundgren, a reproductive health coordinator with CCHD, willingly consented to a shot from Stomner.

“I’m a health care worker,” Lundgren acknowledged. “Health care workers are in the top priority — we want to make sure they get vaccinated. I have three kids who are around a lot of germs. So working in health care and being around three kids . . .”

Flu shots should be obtained annually, according to DHS.

“Because immunity declines over the course of a year (especially for the elderly) and the flu strains change, people who received a seasonal flu immunization last year should get another one this year.”

It doesn’t take long on the Internet, or by talking with health care professionals and others, to determine that no one really knows how effective the flu vaccine is in preventing the dreaded disease. A big reason, according to Stomner, is that everyone’s different.

“It’s so unique to the person, as far as what their body system’s already compromised or not, and what their health status is, and that sort of thing. That’s why we like that community immunity, which is referred to as herd immunity.”

She said they know the vaccine is not 100 percent effective for everybody, but the more people that get vaccinated, the better chance there is of protecting those who aren’t. Also, antibodies in a person’s system will help to reduce any symptoms if the flu is contracted.

Stomner said that consistent hand washing with the proper technique, and covering coughs with the arm are a couple of things people can do to help prevent the flu — but neither are primary.

“They always ask, ‘How do I prevent the flu?’ The best defense against getting the flu is getting your vaccine.”

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