Health Department Sets Record For Mass Dispensing Flu Exercise
The Arkansas Department of Health set a new record for its Mass Dispensing Flu Exercise and immunized 123,172 Arkansans against influenza last week.
The shots were dispensed during the mass flu vaccination clinics held statewide in 81 health units. All 75 counties were involved again this year, but the totals significantly surpassed last year's number of 103,541 vaccinations for the exercise.
Dr. William Mason, Director of the Emergency Response and Preparedness Branch, said that the purpose of the drill was two-fold. "The first goal was to exercise the state's mass dispensing plan that is designed to insure that health professionals and volunteers are prepared to vaccinate or dispense medication to a large population in a very short period of time. If Arkansas were ever to experience pandemic influenza or another such disaster, it might be necessary to distribute medications to many citizens quickly. The time to practice dispensing large amounts of medication is now, before we have a disaster," Mason said.
Mason said. "If you missed the vaccination clinics, it is not too late to receive a flu shot. Your physician, pharmacist and local public health unit can administer the vaccine. Shots cost $20 at the local health units for anyone not enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid or the Vaccines for Children Program."
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and results in 25-50 million infections and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.
Influenza symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and occasionally stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. The influenza virus is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year. You cannot catch the flu from the vaccination. The vaccination uses a dead virus and cannot cause you to get the flu. The vaccine usually becomes effective two weeks after being administered; therefore, the best time to be vaccinated is October to November. However, it can still be beneficial to get the vaccine even later as typical flu season runs from mid-December through March.
Though all persons over 6 months of age should bet a flu shot each year, those most at risk for influenza disease complications are: those in nursing homes, individuals over 50 years of age; persons with chronic diseases of the heart, lung and kidneys, or who have diabetes, asthma, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia; women who will be pregnant during flu season; children and teens on long-term aspirin therapy. Children six months through five years of age should receive the flu vaccine due to the increased probability of severe illness in this age group. Daycare situations make these children especially vulnerable.
Health care workers are also at greater risk for passing influenza infection on to high-risk individuals and should be vaccinated. An influenza vaccination offers 70 percent to 90 percent protection against infection and can decrease the severity and side effects if you do get sick.