Prepping for flu season
Ann Massari, a registered nurse, gives a flu shot at the Lake County Health Clinic in Waukegan. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
With the cooler weather already here, many area residents prepare their homes, cars and wardrobes for winter, but sometimes neglect their body’s immune system.
Karen Lyons, immunization program coordinator for the Lake County Health Department, recommends getting a flu shot now to fight off the contagious, viral disease.
“It takes about two weeks for your body to develop the proper immunity,” Lyons said. “So it’s best to get the shot early, before the flu season is in full swing.”
Flu season runs November through April.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend annual flu vaccinations to protect from three possible strains of influenza. Lyons said health officials try to determine, based on reports from doctors and hospitals around the country, which strains are more actively circulating in a given year.
How accurate the predictions are each year regarding which strains will be the most common varies, she said.
Because flu viruses are unpredictable and can mutate, it’s impossible to protect oneself completely, but the chances of staying healthy are better with the vaccination, she said. “It could also be the difference between a mild case of flu and a severe one,” she added.
Health officials use data from the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere to predict how bad the flu will be here. It doesn’t look good as the Southern Hemisphere experienced a severe flu season this year.
While Illinois has not yet seen any flu activity, surrounding states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana have already reported a number of cases.
In the past, getting vaccinated was considered vital only for certain groups, such as adults over 50 years old, small children, pregnant females and people who work in a healthcare setting. This year is different. Health officials are recommending that everyone over 6 months of age get vaccinated, she said.
Other than children under 6 months old, Lyons said that the only situation where someone might not want to get the shot is if they have a severe egg allergy. Since egg proteins are used in the vaccine in small amounts, they can trigger a reaction.
The most common side effects of the shot are soreness at the injection site, a general feeling of malaise on the day of the shot, a headache or a low-grade fever. Lyons said these are all completely normal and they pass quickly.
Individuals afraid of needles can opt for a nasal spray. Lyons said the spray has been available for over 10 years and functions much the same way as the injected vaccine. Because the viruses used in the spray are live, individuals must be between 2 and 49 years old to get the vaccine this way.
Flu immunization is available at doctor’s offices, at most Jewel and Dominick’s stores, and at Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacy locations. Some health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccination. Others require a co-pay or separate fee.
While they do not accept private insurance, the Lake County Health Department also offers the shot at its Waukegan clinic. To make an appointment, call 847-377-8470. The cost for adults 19 years and older is $35 and $15 for those 18 and under. Shots are available for free or at a reduced rate for those unable to pay.
For more information on seasonal flu, visit the Lake County Health Department website at www.lakecountyil.gov.