Early shots best for flu

As the number of whooping cough cases in Spokane County drops, health officials continue pressing the case for immunizations, including this year’s flu vaccine.

Mark Springer, an epidemiologist with the Spokane Regional Health District, said declining cases of whooping cough, also called pertussis, in the past two months is not proof that the disease is going away.

“We are seeing providers who are not necessarily testing, but who are treating based on a clinical diagnosis based on the patient’s symptoms,” Springer said.

As a result of passing on the testing, which costs hundreds of dollars, those patients aren’t factored into the disease statistics.

According to the health district, there were fewer than 20 whooping cough cases in September and October, down from almost 50 in August.

But as those numbers decline, flu season is just getting started.

Two people so far have been hospitalized for influenza in Spokane County.

Springer said the reported cases of flu have been seasonal influenza A, not the epidemic H1N1 seen in 2009. The bulk of flu cases in this region show up in late January, February and March. But that doesn’t mean people should put off getting the flu vaccine until then, Springer said.

“It’s really important to think ahead and get the flu shot early,” Springer said, adding that it takes up to two weeks for the immune system to develop antibodies from a vaccine.

While certain groups of people, such as older people and pregnant women, tend to have more complications from the flu, Springer said the vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months old.

Even those who aren’t in high-risk groups come into contact with members of those groups, Springer said. Flu symptoms don’t present for the first day or so of the infection.

The vaccine is covered by most insurance providers and is available through pharmacies, the health district or any primary care provider.

Springer said several myths often prevent people from getting the shot or the nasal mist vaccine. For example, the idea that someone can get the flu from the vaccine is “pretty much impossible” because the injection is not a live virus, he said.

Springer said there have been no shortages of this year’s vaccine, which has been altered to match flu strains from last season.

With an average of 150 to 250 hospitalizations in the county due to flu each year, Springer said it is important for the community to stay ahead of the curve and get the vaccine early.

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