McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 9, 2013

Ready or not, here the flu comes

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — With flu season gearing up in Oklahoma, limited quantities of the influenza vaccine are available at the Pittsburg County Health Department.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” said Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator Michael Echelle.

Oklahoma’s influenza season normally peaks in January or February, Echelle said.

“We’re starting to see an increase in requests for flu vaccine,” said Echelle, who noted that flu activity is increasing in Oklahoma.

The Pittsburg County Health Department previously ran out of some of its influenza vaccines, but Echelle said more vaccines were obtained from other sources.

“We exhausted our inventory, specifically for adults, at least one time since October 1, so we were looking to the state to acquire more vaccine,” Echelle said.

Currently, the Pittsburg County Health Department has approximately 51 adult flu injectable vaccines, and 85 vaccines in the form of a flu mist for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49, Echelle said. The mist is a way to provide an immunization through nasal passages without receiving an injection.

“For children, we have 73 injectable doses and 42 flu mists,” Echelle said.

A regional level of influenza activity has been observed in Oklahoma since shortly before Christmas, he said.

Statewide, the Oklahoma State Department of Health says   21 new influenza related hospitalizations were reported from Dec. 19-25, the most recent week for which statistics were available.

They are included among 75 hospitalizations reported statewide since Sept. 30, 2012, the day the health department considers the start of the flu season in Oklahoma.

One death due to influenza has been reported in Oklahoma for the current flu season.

“The northwest and central areas, along with Tulsa County, are experiencing the highest levels of flu-like illness,” Echelle said.

As of Dec. 25, there had not yet been one confirmed case of  influenza in Pittsburg County for this flu season, Echelle said.

“That statistic can change very quickly based on laboratory conformation,” he added.

While there had been no official confirmation of flu in Pittsburg County by Dec. 25, “That doesn’t mean we don’t have flu-like illness in our county,” Echelle said. It simply means it hasn’t yet been confirmed thorugh lab testing or physicians’ reports.

An influenza vaccination is recommended for most people in the state, with some groups considered at higher risk than others.

“A vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age, or older,” Echelle said.

Those considered high-risk include individuals who are 50 or older, children, pregnant women, and individuals with diabetes, or chronic heart or lung conditions

Costs for influenza vaccinations at the Pittsburg County Health Department range from no charge at all, to a relatively moderate fee.

“For individuals who are 65 or older, those who are on Medicare or Medicaid, or who fall below 185 percent of the poverty level, there is no charge,” Echelle said.

Those with insurance should bring the insurance verification information to the health department, he said.

Individuals who fall into none of the above-listed categories may have to pay for their vaccinations.

“If there is a fee to be charged, it will be $25,” said Echelle.

Influenza vaccines are typically available at other sites in McAlester. Echelle suggested individuals may want to check with their health care providers or pharmacies about the availability of influenza vaccinations.

At the Pittsburg County Health Department, Coordinating Nurse Barbara Carswell said the vaccines are effective for a a year.

It takes awhile for the vaccinations to become effective after they are given, however.

“It takes about 14 days for the vaccine to take effect,” Echelle noted.

Nearly 3,000 of the influenza immunizations have already been given by the Pittsburg County Health Department since October 1, Echelle said.

The Pittsburg County Health Department is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday. No appointment is required for those seeking to get a flu vaccination.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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