Taking their best shot: State aims to prevent another record flu season

DOVER — Delaware set an undesired record of 9,051 flu cases over the course of the 2018-’19 flu season, leaving its’ affected patients miserable and owners of pharmaceutical and tissue companies quite happy.

This year, Delaware Division of Health (DPH) Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, along with their staffs, are hoping that people will take advantage of flu vaccinations to try to keep those numbers down this season.

DPH conducted its third-annual drive-thru flu clinic in the parking lot in front of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s Administrative Building on its main campus in Dover on Tuesday.

Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and more than a thousand other people who were 9-years-old and older took advantage of the convenient — and free — drive-thru clinic that lasted from 7 a.m. through 6 p.m. at DelDOT.

Gov. Carney came prepared as he wore a short-sleeved shirt to the event. Dr. Walker administered the flu shot to him while Jennifer Cohan, secretary of DelDOT, drove him through the lane and joined him in receiving her vaccination.

“Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best thing you can do to keep from getting and spreading the flu and keep you from missing work, school and important family events,” he said. “I believe in leading by example and that’s why I’m taking this very public opportunity to get my flu vaccine.”

A total of 135 volunteers from Bayhealth, DPH and the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps were on hand to administer 1,100 vaccinations to individuals, no matter if they drove up, were a passenger in a vehicle or walked to the clinic.

Lauren Wolfe, 18, of Dover, gets her flu shot at Tuesday’s free event.

Two lanes of vehicles were guided through big white tents and moved swiftly, as 474 people had already received their vaccinations by 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, putting the event well on pace to topping last year’s record of 887 flu shots given.

The annual drive-thru flu clinic also serves as a preparedness exercise for the DPH.

“This helps us be prepared for if ever we need to do mass vaccinations for a public health emergency,” Dr. Rattay said.

Lauren Wolfe, an 18-year-old from Dover, was one of the many who took advantage of Tuesday’s drive-thru flu clinic.

“It was really convenient and easier than having to set up an appointment and it’s just good to be a part of this program,” Ms. Wolfe said. “Why not take advantage of it?

“I’ve gotten my flu shot ever since I was little and I’ve never had any problems with it. I always feel safe and I’m confident in it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year’s flu vaccine protects against three or four strains of the virus, depending on whether the trivalent or quadrivalent vaccine is administered.

DPH will only be offering the quadrivalent vaccine at its clinics.

High-dose vaccines for those 65 and older and a nasal spray flu vaccine are also available through private providers and pharmacies. Delawareans should talk with their health care providers about which option suits their needs best.

Flu vaccines are offered through physician offices, many pharmacies and some grocery stores.

Get vaccinated ASAP

The important thing, Dr. Rattay said, is to get a flu vaccination as soon as possible because it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against influenza virus infection.

Plus, flu activity got off to an early start this year in Delaware.

While the official start of the 2018-’19 flu season didn’t begin until Sept. 30 there had already been 12 laboratory-confirmed cases already reported in September.

The cases, which were statewide, included five pediatric cases and one hospitalization.

By the end of last week, there were already four laboratory-confirmed cases reported for the season’s first official week.

Last year’s record-setting flu season didn’t get its first confirmed flu cases until late October.

The flu vaccine is recommended for Delawareans 6 months of age and older.

“We are asking residents not to put off getting their flu vaccine,” Dr. Rattay said. “With flu activity already occurring statewide before the ‘official’ start of the flu season, which (was) September 30, we are feeling a sense of urgency to make sure people are making plans and appointments to get their flu shot sooner rather than later. It is not too early.”

Dr. Rattay added that while there were more than 9,000 flu cases in Delaware last year, including 1,200 that that led to hospitalizations and 35 that led to death from flu complications, that doesn’t automatically mean this flu season will be as bad.

“This does not necessarily mean we will have a rough flu season like last year,” she said. “We could have a heavy caseload at the start and see cases even out. The flu is unpredictable, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated every year, since we never know what kind of flu season we will see.”

What symptoms to look for

The state’s health officials said flu symptoms come on suddenly and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue.

Some people get complications including pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections.

Those sick with the flu should stay home from work, school and other gatherings and should not return until free of a 100-degree fever and without the use of fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours.

Those diagnosed with the flu should avoid close contact with well people in the household, drink plenty of water and other clear liquids and treat fever and cough with over-the-counter medicines.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, who is also a nurse, knows how serious complications from the flu can be to patients.

“As a nurse, I have seen how crippling dealing with a bout of the flu can be. And it’s something that can be easily prevented with an annual vaccine,” she said. “Just as importantly, the flu vaccine reduces the severity of your illness if you get the flu anyway.

“Remember that a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Your arm may feel achy where the vaccine was given, but that usually only lasts one or two days and is far less painful than a bout with the flu.”

Those who are very sick, pregnant or have a medical condition like asthma should call their doctors for antiviral medicines to make the illness milder, hasten recovery and prevent serious complications, hospitalizations and even death.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, Delawareans can prevent the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses with good hygiene.

Individuals should wash hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with 60 percent alcohol and cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and dispose of tissues immediately.

If a tissue is not available, a person should cough or sneeze into their inner elbow since droplets from a sneeze can travel up to six feet.

People are advised to stay six feet away from others who are coughing or sneezing and avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

People should also try to get proper sleep and exercise, manage stress and eat healthy.

“We must take the flu seriously because it is more than an inconvenience,” Dr. Walker said. “Getting a flu shot protects not only you, but those around you as well.

“This is something you can do to protect your life, as well as the lives of your grandparents, your children, co-workers or friends. Remember, with the flu, if you don’t get it, you can’t spread it.”

 

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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