Seasonal Flu Shots Now Available

Amy Hirsch

Conventional flu shots are now available in the health center, but this year there are fears for more than the usual week of nasal congestion, headache, cough, muscle aches and fatigue.

There is concern that the worldwide spread of swine flu could cause outbreaks of unusual severity. Children and young adults are known to be particularly at risk due to lack of prior exposure to similar viruses.

Influenza H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, drew worldwide attention this spring when it spread suddenly within Mexico, resulting in the death of a number of young people. The outbreak ended after very stringent measures were taken to isolate those with symptoms and severely limit school and work attendance as well as travel.

According to Maureen McNeely, a registered nurse in the health center, “Anyone with flu-like symptoms and a fever greater than 100 [degrees Fahrenheit] should not come to school. stay home until at least 24 hours after fever resolves.”

McNeely also recommends that “sick people stay in separate rooms, cover up and wash hands frequently after coughs and sneezes.”

Glendale student Katharine Beghouzian is fairly confident that she can avoid catching the flu by “sanitizing my hands and washing if I touch something that may be dirty.”

Influenza is known to mutate and recombine its genetic material readily, therefore effective immunization has been very difficult, requiring that various components of the vaccine be customized each season in an attempt to cover the strains of viruses recently active.

Unfortunately, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC), the current seasonal flu shot for the 2009 season will provide no immunity from H1N1.

Currently, H1N1 flu is classed as a worldwide pandemic. Tests show that nearly all flu activity in the U.S. at this time is H1N1. Flu activity is already well above average for this time of year with concern that spread could become explosive due to ease of transmission in a population with little immunity from prior exposure.

Most cases of swine flu now being seen are resulting in symptoms similar to those typical for the usual seasonal flu. Recovery is normally full and uncomplicated after about a week of illness. Nevertheless, experts are worried about the potential development of a more severe illness from mutating and recombining viral strains such as occurred in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic when millions died worldwide.

In order to prevent a potentially catastrophic flu season, the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended that an urgent immunization program against H1N1 be implemented.

Several pharmaceutical companies are now producing maximum amounts of vaccine designed to give immunity against H1N1. Currently trials are ongoing to determine the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine. Latest reports from the CDC indicate an excellent prediction of effectiveness, based on antibodies to the virus showing up on blood tests less than two weeks after immunization. It appears that a single shot will be sufficient. No unexpected adverse reactions have been reported.

Supplies of the H1N1 vaccine are expected to be sufficient to immunize approximately 200 million people in the U.S. The anticipated date for shipments to begin to arrive for use is mid-October, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC and Jonathan Fielding MD, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the swine flu vaccination is “recommended for all persons six months through 24 years of age; persons who live with or care for infants less than six months of age; pregnant women; health care workers and emergency services personnel; and persons 25 through 64 years of age with medical conditions that put them at high risk for complications if they get influenza.”

Fielding also emphasized the need to “wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes, and stay home if you or your child is sick.”

Despite emphasis on the H1N1 flu, immunization against seasonal flu is recommended in addition for those at risk of complications. People in the special categories, other than age, for which swine flu shots are advised should get seasonal flu shots also.

According to Jessica Lo Guercio of the GCC health center, 250 doses of the seasonal flu shot are now available for students and staff. The cost is $10 for students, $20 for staff, cash only.

It is not yet known when supplies of H1N1 vaccine will become available on campus, but mid-October is predicted.

The health center is on the first floor of the San Rafael building, open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.