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October 3, 2008

Marla Augustine, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047 or

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DHHS Begins Flu Surveillance

Time to Get Your Flu Shot

Lincoln— The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services began its surveillance for flu on October 1, as it does every year. That’s when flu season officially begins, when the virus typically starts circulating in the United States.

"The flu is nothing to mess around with," said Dr. Joann Schaefer, the state’s Chief Medical Officer. "Anyone who doesn’t want to get the flu and doesn’t want to transmit it to their family members should get vaccinated or receive FluMist."

Flu surveillance involves checking with physicians’ offices in the state to see if they are seeing patients with influenza. So far, no reports of cases have come in.

"It’s difficult to predict when cases will start popping up," Dr. Schaefer said. "Sometimes it’s as early as November. Generally it’s in December. The peak time occurs in February or March."

Last year was the harshest one in four years because the flu vaccine did not match the strains in the vaccine, Dr. Schaefer said. This year the vaccine should be a better match because the flu strains are the same ones circulating in the southern hemisphere, which is where influenza develops.

There will be more doses of the vaccine available than ever before—approximately 140 million doses—to meet the expanded requirements.

About 83 percent of the U.S. population is included in one or more of the target groups, but last year less than 40 percent Americans received immunizations.

It takes about two weeks after receiving an immunization before immunity is fully developed.

"It’s a myth that you can get flu from the flu shot," Dr. Schaefer said. The most common reaction to the flu shot is soreness and redness at the injection site. If you don’t like shots, FluMist is a nasal spray available for those who are healthy and between two and 49 years of age, she said.

The flu is spread by respiratory droplets through the air. If someone sneezes or coughs into their hands, they can spread the virus to surfaces like door handles and phones. Cold weather causes people to congregate indoors, causing more transmission. Holidays, which bring families and friends together, usually give the number of flu cases a boost.

The symptoms of the flu include a fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, cough, headache and muscles aches.

"You’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a truck," Dr. Schaefer said. "You’ll be knocked out for about a week. I’ve had patients say they have never been so sick in their lives."

If you do come down with the flu, don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics, which won’t help with viral illnesses. Using antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to antibiotic resistance, she said. Asking your physician for an antiviral in the first 48 to 72 hours can mitigate the symptoms.

On average, about 226,000 people are hospitalized with flu each year, with 36,000 deaths.

Who should get the flu shot?

This year, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all children aged 6 months to 18 years be vaccinated, especially if they have asthma, diabetes, or compromised immune systems which may be the result of cancer, heart problems, anemia and long-term aspirin therapy. Children aged six months to eight years who are receiving their first dose will need two doses, at least one month apart.

Adults aged 50 and over should be vaccinated, especially if they are at risk for medical complications from influenza or have compromised immune systems. People with transplants or with chronic medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, respiratory difficulties like emphysema, or liver or kidney disease should be vaccinated.

Anyone who lives with or cares for persons at high risk of influenza-related complications, including the contacts of children aged 6 months or younger, should receive the vaccine.

Pregnant women should be immunized because they are four times more likely to have complications.

Residents of assisted living units, nursing homes and long-term care facilities should be vaccinated. And all health care workers should be vaccinated to protect their patients.

For more information about the flu, go to

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