Flu season: Be prepared, take precautions, and get help if needed

Pharmacist Erik Mabus at Bayard Pharmacy in Dover prepares a flu shot. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Really, it’s OK.

Some would-be flu shot recipients hesitate at the counter.

At times, Bayard Pharmacy owner Erik Mabus needs to ease their fears and discredit the myths.

No, the pharmacist says, the injection doesn’t cause searing pain.

“The people who don’t want it are often afraid of needles,” Mr. Mabus said. “The needles, in fact, are very thin and many folks don’t even realize it has been inserted.”

Then there’s the false narrative that the shot can create influenza.

“That’s impossible,” Mr. Mabus said. “It’s not a live virus so it can’t cause the flu.”

Others are just generally against any sort of vaccination at all.

“The reality is that more people will die from the flu than will have serious side effects and that’s by a wide margin,” Mr. Mabus said.

Young adults in their late teens and 20s may need some convincing, too.

“They may think they’re strong and healthy and won’t get sick from it and they might be right,” Mr. Mabus said.

“But if they have the bug they can pass it on to one, two or 10 other people. You can be contagious days before you experience any symptoms yourself.”

According to Dr. Dheeraj Taranath, a regional medical director for MedExpress, there’s false belief that some people are immune based on their flu-free history.

“However, each year the strain is different, so just because you haven’t had the flu yet, doesn’t mean you won’t ever,” Dr. Taranath said.

Dr. Taranath pointed to children, pregnant women, co-workers, elderly individuals or anyone with a compromised immune system as reason enough to get a vaccination.

“Getting a flu shot is a healthy choice for you, your family and the entire community,” he said. “The more people who protect against the virus, the less flu in general – which is good for everyone.”

Pharmacist Erik Mabus at Bayard Pharmacy in Dover prepares a flu shot. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

The most common side effects from a shot are minor, the doctor said, when including “soreness, redness, swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches.

“It’s easy for some to confuse these symptoms with the flu, but they are side effects that go away rather quickly.”

Taking precautions may be lifesaving measures, whether you realize it or not.

“Many people underestimate the seriousness of the flu,” Dr. Taranath said. “The flu isn’t just another cold – it’s a very serious disease that can lead to hospitalization, complications and, in some cases, death.”

So it makes sense to be proactive when symptoms arrive.

“If you suspect you have the flu – contact your doctor,” said Dr. Martin Luta, Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Delaware Division.

“Antiviral medications may shorten the infection and prevent serious complications.”Looking ahead, the next two months could be the peak season for the flu. A shot taken today will bring full immunity within about two weeks or so.

Serious flu conditions

The Delaware Division of Public Health recommends anyone six months and older who has not yet been vaccinated against the flu, to do so as soon as possible. Children six months to eight years getting vaccinated for the first time, should get two doses of vaccine.

The number of flu shot seeking walk-ins have been pretty standard this year, Mr. Mabus said, perhaps even a little less than usual. The turnout is clearly less than during the H1-N1 scare a couple seasons ago, he said.

Dr. Taranath pointed to “the development of antiviral medications like Tamiflu was another win for treating the flu. These medications can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also help prevent complications like pneumonia.”

In mid-December, the DPH announced the first flu-related death of the 2017-18 season involving a 47-year-old New Castle County man who died at a hospital. He was a long-term care facility resident at the time and had several underlying health conditions.

“His death is a reminder of how serious the flu can be, especially among vulnerable populations,” DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said.

“We often think of the very young and seniors when we think of the vulnerable, but people at any age with underlying health conditions are also at a greater risk of the flu and serious complications stemming from it.”

Through Dec. 2, the state’s number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases (46) and hospitalizations (15) were nearly identical to the previous year’s pace.

MedExpress reports elevated numbers of influenza-like illnesses this season, and said Delaware currently has the seventh highest rate among the 18 states it operates in.

“In fact, MedExpress’ 2017-2018 ILI rates for Delaware centers are higher than they have been during the same time period of the past four flu seasons (16 percent in 2017-2018 compared to 10-13 percent in previous years),” Dr. Taranath said.

The state typically spends about $80,000 annually for its flu vaccine supply, and is no out-of-pocket expenses to recipients at five State Service Centers facilities. Medicare is billed for the service.

Information on statewide locations can be found online at dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/fluclinics.html. A Google search for “CDC Flu Finder” will also assist.

At the five MedExpress centers throughout Delaware, including one in Dover, a reduced rate of $30 is charged for flu shots.

The DPH also believes the number of flu infections may be higher than reported, since some afflicted don’t seek medical care and others aren’t tested when they are.

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