Flu arrives in Pima County; immunizations urged

2013-10-09T00:00:00Z Flu arrives in Pima County; immunizations urgedBy Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A flu case was confirmed in Pima County Tuesday, and health officials say now is the time to get immunized.

County officials said information about the patient’s age and health status was not available.

The Pima County case brings the total of confirmed Arizona cases to two. A child in Maricopa County who did not get a flu shot and was not hospitalized was the first case in the state this season.

A vaccine, available in nasal spray or injectable form, takes about two weeks to take effect and will last for the entire season, health experts say. Seniors may get an injectable high-dose vaccine.

“For older folks, the new higher-dose flu preparation is the ideal one to get. As we age, our immune system doesn’t work as well,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, director of the Pima County Health Department.

Just 58 percent of Pima County seniors were vaccinated against influenza last season, and Garcia says that’s far too low. The national average was 66 percent, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

“We should be hitting a target of 75 or 80 percent,” Garcia said. “The majority of mortality occurs in older folks.”

Sixty percent of all individuals who end up getting hospitalized for influenza are 65 or older, and 90 percent of those who die of the flu are seniors, Garcia said.

“It is a needless, preventable cause of death,” he said.

Last year Arizona had more than 11,000 lab-confirmed flu cases and four pediatric deaths. All of the children who died from flu last season were from Northern Arizona, state officials say.

State and federal health officials recommend flu vaccines for anyone who is 6 months of age or older.

Medicare Part B covers the cost of a flu shot for seniors, as long as the provider accepts Medicare, said Kathy Malkin, public health nursing division manager for the Pima County Health Department.

Two new vaccines are available this year — one that offers immunity against four flu strains instead of the normal three, and a vaccine that is safe for people who are severely allergic to chicken eggs. People should call their providers ahead of time if they have a severe egg allergy, Malkin said.

The most common vaccine will protect against two A and one B strains of influenza. The four-strain vaccine protects against two A’s and two B’s.

The nasal spray vaccine, approved for healthy, nonpregnant people between the ages of 2 and 49, will protect against four strains, Malkin said.

Most of the available injectables will cover three strains, she said. The CDC does not recommend one vaccine over the other.

Kids 18 and younger may get free flu shots from the county, but if they are covered by Medicaid or other insurance, parents are asked to bring that information.

For the first time the county will be offering free shots to people between the ages of 19 and 64 who don’t have insurance or whose insurance does not cover the flu vaccine, Malkin said. That program, operated with the Arizona Department of Health Services, is not in place yet but is expected to begin within the next few weeks, Malkin said.

Since newborns aren’t vaccinated and people with compromised immune systems don’t benefit as much from the vaccine, state health officials have said getting a shot is a simple way to protect not only yourself but your family and your community.

“The more people that get the vaccine, the less flu there will be out there,” Malkin said. “A lot of folks don’t think they need it or they believe a lot of myths about the flu shot. They’ll say, ‘I got a shot 20 years back and got sick so I’m never getting it again.’ … The truth is, if they got sick it wasn’t because of the flu vaccine. If they got really sick they were probably already exposed to the flu.”

Local hospitals encourage their employees to get a flu vaccine. Last year the Carondelet Health Network took the extra step of requesting anyone working at a Carondelet facility either get the vaccine or wear a surgical mask during flu season when they were within 6 feet of patients.

The effort made a difference, and about 96 percent of those employees got the flu vaccine, Carondelet spokeswoman Lisa Contreras said. The initiative has already started for this season with flu shot clinics at Carondelet facilities, she said.

While exact numbers are not available, Carondelet’s occupational health department reported fewer cases of the flu among workers last season, Contreras said.

The average flu immunization rate for health-care workers in the U.S. was 72 percent, the CDC says. The rate for physicians was 92 percent. The lowest coverage — 59 percent — was among people who work in long-term-care facilities.

The flu spreads from person to person through droplets made when people sick with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Symptoms include a fever, a cough, a sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. And now is the ideal time to get immunized, Malkin added.

“It is not too soon. The earlier the better.”

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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