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Health department offering free flu shots

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GREENFIELD — Next week is National Influenza Vaccination Week, but Hancock County residents can get a jump on preventing disease this winter.

The Hancock County Health Department is offering free flu shots to adults every Friday as long as supplies are available. Eligible adults are anyone 19 years of age and older; appointments are not necessary.

“Our goal is to lessen disease in our county,” said Beth Burkhardt, public health nurse.

Burkhardt says she has about 100 vaccines left and the shots will be distributed for free until they run out.  The department is encouraging residents to get their vaccines now, before the flu starts going around.

“It takes two weeks to get the full benefit of the vaccine,” Burkhardt said, “which is why we want to get people in before we get a lot of flu reports.”

Burkhardt said she has gotten four flu reports so far this season. In Hancock County, the greatest number of such reports usually comes in February and March.

The vaccine, Burkhardt said, is the best way to prevent the spread of what can be a highly contagious illness. An infected individual can begin spreading the flu as early as two days before any symptoms occur.  That means it spreads especially fast in places like schools and day cares where lots of individuals are together all at once.

Though Burkhardt recommends the vaccine for anyone over the age of 6 months, she said it’s particularly important for people who interact with the public on a regular basis. But anyone can spread or catch the flu, she said.

“You can go into Wal-Mart and be standing next to somebody with an immuno-compromising condition and not even know it,” she said. “It could be life threatening (to that person).”

Though most people dread the idea of getting a shot, the quick prick of a needle is nothing compared to having the flu itself.

“You just want to die,” Burkhardt said.

Symptoms can include high fever, body aches, chills and cough. Flu severity varies from year to year.  Between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are several, often mild, side effects associated with the vaccine. Burkhardt said to expect some soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, but the more a patient uses their arm, the less the effects will be.

In some cases, vaccinated patients will get mild symptoms a day or two after receiving the vaccine. That can include a low-grade fever and mild body aches. Burkhardt said it’s important for the public to those are not flu symptoms, but simply the body reacting to making antibodies.

“You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine,” she said.

Though the vaccine is the best way to protect against infection, Burkhardt said it’s important to remember that it is possible to get the flu even if you have been vaccinated.

Each year, experts from Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, CDC and other institutions study virus samples collected from around the world. They identify the influenza viruses that are the most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season so that people can be protected against them through vaccination, But if those strains mutate or others become prevalent, it can impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“If you’re sick, regardless, do not go to work; do not go to school,” Burkhardt said. “We really don’t want you going anywhere. Stay home and get well, while not spreading the disease.”

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