Updated: December 4, 2012 at 12:00 am
Thousands of El Paso County residents will get flu shots this season, but thousands more who probably should get them won’t.
That happens annually, but this year the flu bug has surfaced a bit earlier (no one knows why) than usual so public health officials are trying to raise awareness. There have been six local hospitalizations for flu so far and usually flu cases don’t surface until January.
“We’ve given 3,836 flu shots so far,” said Randy Hilton, director of communications for Peak Vista Community Health Centers. “The majority of those have been to children. We encourage everyone to get a flu shot.”
Peak Vista serves the uninsured, the under-insured and low-income people and the cost of a flu shot and other services is tied to a sliding scale based upon ability to pay. As in most years, there is plenty of flu vaccine to go around and “it’s not even close to being too late” to get a shot, Hilton said.
How many are vaccinated countywide?
“Knowing that would be awfully difficult, because a lot of what is given is given in private venues,” said Dr. Bill Letson, medical director for the El Paso County Public Health. In addition to Peak Vista, people can get shots at urgent care centers, drug stores, doctors’ offices — and there’s no reliable tally.
What about those six reported cases in which the victim went to the hospital?
“Those numbers are really conservative,” Letson said. “They really just collect hospital cases. Certainly there is vast under-reporting.”
You’ve probably heard people say they don’t get flu shots because the shots can give you the flu. That’s a stubborn myth public health officials battle every year.
Statistically there is a small chance a flu shot may make you feel achy. If you’re allergic to chicken, eggs or if you have had a violent reaction to a flu shot in the past, then don’t get a shot. The shots aren’t recommended for children under 6 months old.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of those who have died of the flu in the past 35 years were older than 65. And about 24,000 in the United States die of the flu each year.
Colorado has had no fatalities this season, but two children have died of the flu in Southern states. The experts say this year’s vaccine is a good match for the flu that is circulating.
Letson said the number of flu cases increase as the weather gets colder because people tend to congregate indoors. We’re certainly going to see more cases.
There’s no reason to be alarmist, but it’s concerning that the season started so early. The solution is easy though: all you have to do is get a shot.
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