State Health Department officials say that late November is not too late to get an influenza shot.
According to Ed Barham, public information officer for the Arkansas State Health Department, the flu’s peak season will come in the first two months of 2011.
Barham said the shot’s benefits come into full effect after about two weeks.
"We’ve had little to no real influenza in the state yet. We’ve had a lot of upper respiratory infections going around that seem to be influenza-like, with the cough and congestion, runny nose. It’s not really influenza. The real flu hasn’t arrived yet in the state. It usually comes in on an airplane after Thanksgiving and begins to spread over the holidays," Barham said.
Barham said a common misconception with the illness is its link to stomach or gastrointestinal ailments.
"There’s no such thing as the stomach flu. Influenza is a respiratory illness that makes you feel stopped up. Very rarely does it have anything to do with the stomach."
Barham said oncoming symptoms include a stopped up nose, heavy chest congestion and coughing.
Barham expects the state to see a new twist on the virus this year, a H3N2 strain that has been seen in Australia.
"There has been some H1N1 virus seen there, too. We think we will see that virus again this year. They usually track it from the southern hemisphere first. It’s their winter while it’s our summer, and then it moves up here. It follows the weather," Barham said.
The vaccine currently being administered to area residents offers protection against H1N1, H3N2 and a type B virus that officials expect may play a part in the season’s illnesses.
"You can get the flu if you’ve had a flu shot," Barham said. "But it’s likely that it will be significantly less in duration and intensity. You might not have it as bad or for as long as you might have."
Barham said the H1N1 virus resulted in the deaths of 53 Arkansans last year.
"Out of the more than 800,000 vaccines administered last year, we did not have a single report of an adverse reaction. It’s very safe and effective and people have no reason to worry about the shot."
The Faulkner County Health Department recently wrapped up its campaign to inoculate public and private school students in the county, administering final shots to Conway Public School students a week ago.
Several local employers, businesses, and all county schools have made flu shots available to their employees and students in an effort to curb the illness’ impact in the area.
"School nurses said they saw a significant difference in school attendance. Not as many were sick after we gave the shots last year," Liz Bush, Faulkner County Health Department RN clinic coordinator, said. "Students didn’t miss as much school and schools really appreciated it. The families did as well."
Bush said the state initiated the campaign last year to combat the spread of H1N1, and she believes that the departments will continue to work at preventative measures.
As far as precautionary efforts, Bush said simple hand-washing is still the number one defense against the spread of influenza and other viruses.
Flu vaccines are available to county residents at the Faulkner County Health Department, located at 811 N. Creek Dr. in Conway.
Bush said appointments are recommended, and can be made by calling 501-450-4941.
The Health Department administers the vaccines at $20 per shot, and accepts Medicare, state insurance, ARKids First and can bill Medicaid.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)