CHEYENNE — As influenza cases begin to appear across the state, Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) officials are touting annual vaccinations as the best way to avoid becoming ill with the flu.
Dr. Wendy Braund, state health officer and WDH Public Health Division senior administrator, said almost everyone who is six months or older should get a seasonal flu vaccine each year to help prevent influenza. “Getting a flu vaccine is safe and is the first, the most important and the most effective thing people can do to help prevent getting ill with influenza and passing it on to others.”
Each year, influenza leads to hospitalizations and deaths. “Healthy people can get the flu. They typically get better in a few days but miss school or work. They can also infect others who may not easily recover and are especially vulnerable to flu and its effects,” Braund said.
Reggie McClinton, a WDH epidemiologist, said the 2013-14 influenza season was considered to be moderately severe. “Unfortunately, 12 seasonal influenza-associated deaths were reported in Wyoming. This is a high number for our state.”
McClinton noted the median age for the residents who died was 54 and only three of the deaths occurred in people older than 65; no deaths were reported among children. “We generally see a higher percentage of deaths among our older adults. Some strains of flu, including the one that was dominant last season, do affect other age groups more severely.”
Braund said it takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection. “We don’t want people to wait to get vaccinated until folks around them are ill. If you’re exposed to the flu virus before the vaccine has had the time it needs to start protecting you, you may still become ill with influenza.”
McClinton said last season’s peak of reported activity in early to mid January.
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
Influenza vaccines are available in many locations, including local public health offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices and retail stores. “Flu vaccines are not expensive and many insurance policies reimburse patients for the costs,” Braund said.
In Wyoming, the cost of the vaccine itself is covered for many children by federal funding and the vaccine program for those eligible is managed by WDH. Children who qualify include those covered by Medicaid, uninsured children, American Indian or Alaska native children and some children considered to be underinsured.
Basic common-sense measures can also slow the spread of influenza and other respiratory diseases. These steps include covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough; frequently washing your hands; and staying home from work, school, day care and errands when ill.