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Don't wait to get flu vaccine, officials advise

Chuck Biedka
| Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Pearl Bennett of New Kensington gets her flu shot from Citizens School of Nursing student Jamie Martin during a flu clinic at the Alle-Kiski Senior Citizens Center in New Kensington on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. 
Eric Felack  |  Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Pearl Bennett of New Kensington gets her flu shot from Citizens School of Nursing student Jamie Martin during a flu clinic at the Alle-Kiski Senior Citizens Center in New Kensington on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Now is the best time to get the vaccine against the seasonal influenza virus, even though few flu cases are being reported in the Alle-Kiski Valley, local and national health officials said Friday.

The flu can easily spread from person to person by people coughing and sneezing, and infected people can be contagious long before any signs of the flu are present. In rare cases, the flu can be deadly.

The 2012-13 flu reporting season is only in its second week, and officials can't even guess what the flu might have in store.

By Friday afternoon, about 15 flu cases — including one in Allegheny County — had been reported to the state Health Department, spokeswoman Holli Senior said.

“That number, of course, isn't large, but often many cases aren't reported to the department because people don't go a doctor. And not all doctors order tests to confirm the flu,” she said.

“What we have been telling people is: whenever you come in contact with health care — at a doctor's office, hospital or pharmacy— get the inoculation,” Senior said. “Don't wait.”

“There's no reason to wait,” said Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole.

“There is no shortage (of vaccine) like we had in 2004, and it's available everywhere and most insurances cover it,” Cole said. The Allegheny County Health Department's flu clinic has been open since Sept. 11 in the 3000 block of Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

Two A-K Valley doctors are among those urging people to get a flu shot.

“All people should be vaccinated to protect themselves and others,” said Dr. Donald Middleton, of UPMC St. Margaret hospital and vice president for family practice education.

Middleton said there are no reports of the flu in this area, although some states had flu cases as early as July.

“If people are afraid of needles, there is another way,” Middleton said. It's now possible to receive the vaccination through a nasal spray.

“Now is a great time to get vaccinated or get the nasal dose because it takes at least two weeks for the antibodies to activate,” he said. That protection lasts about 10 months.

The sooner, the better, said Middleton: “What we want to see is no flu.”

Getting vaccinated is a way to reduce overall health care costs, avoid being sick, and limit the chance of family or friends suffering flu symptoms, he said.

‘No risk of infection'

“There are no vaccine shortages, and this isn't a compound medicine from a pharmacy,” Middleton said. “There is no risk of infection.”

He referred to an outbreak of fungal meningitis associated with doses of the specific lots of steroid medication from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.

“Flu vaccine is made in flu vaccine plants, not at a compounding center,” he said.

In recent years, most of the people who have died from the flu were dealing with obesity, Middleton said.

According to the state Health Department, at least 11 Pennsylvanians died from the flu last year.

Dr. Heather Hanzlik, an internist and general practice doctor associated with Allegheny Valley Hospital, said her group started to give the vaccine at flu clinics and at patient visits last month as soon as it was obtained.

“It looks like it's staying mild,” she said. “We're cautiously optimistic about that.”

Hanzlik and her colleagues recommend the vaccine for anyone 6 months and older.

“See your pediatrician about younger people,” she said.

Lynette Brammer, who directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national flu surveillance system, has followed viruses for more than 20 years.

“They're difficult to predict,” Bammer said. “It could be a mild season like last season or challenging like 2009 when a strain of avian influenza — the bird flu H5N1 — caused major problems.”

Inoculations are available at the doctor's officers and dozens of flu clinics across the Alle-Kiski Valley and at many pharmacies.

Brammer said most flu seasons peak in February, but in some recent years, the peak happened in December and the season was mild.

“But you never really know about a particular flu until after the season ends,” she said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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