The opportunity to get a flu shot has not flown, but it's gotten a little more difficult.
A resurgence of influenza this late in the season, and especially a jump in cases of the potentially dangerous H1N1 strain, has local health officials recommending area residents get the vaccine.
Dr. Robert Palinkas
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
"It's definitely not too late to get the vaccine," said Dr. Robert Palinkas, the director of the U. of I.'s McKinley Health Center. "It's the most effective way to protect yourself, even at this late date."
The university has plenty of vaccine to take care of those who haven't been vaccinated, but Palinkas said the state's contract with the university to offer flu shots to employees expired Dec. 31, and only students can obtain the vaccinations at McKinley.
Palinkas recommends that employees go to their usual health providers to set up an appointment for a flu shot.
He said the fact that students will soon return from break, and buses and classrooms will again be overflowing with people who traveled out of town, could further increase the spread of flu in the area.
"Universities generally amplify and are conducive to spreading infection because there's so much interchange going on," he said.
Adding to any treatment challenges at McKinley is a broken water main that occurred over the holiday break, rendering nearly half of the building uninhabitable. Palinkas said emergency renovation crews are assessing and repairing the damage and that staff members are working hard to continue keeping the facility operational.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District issued a news release Jan. 9 indicating that flu activity, especially H1N1, is on the rise in the area and the outbreak is serious enough to have led to local hospitalizations and even death for some people in Illinois. Other states also have reported an increase in H1N1 cases.
Julie Pryde, CUPHD administrator, said the rise in cases led her agency to conduct an inventory of area stores, hospitals and other care providers that provide regular flu vaccinations to ensure there is still enough to distribute.
"We found there's plenty of vaccine out there in the community," she said. "The health district is still giving (flu shots) and all the pharmacies still have them. We recommend that people who have not been immunized get the shot and get it soon."
Anyone can walk into the public health department for a shot and most pharmacies have the shots on hand. She suggested calling doctors' offices to set up an immunization appointment.
She said this year's flu shot has the added benefit of being made to protect against H1N1, as it has since the first H1N1 scare prior to 2009.
The fact that it takes about two weeks after an immunization for the vaccine to take effect, and considering flu season runs only through about March, she said getting the shot now is imperative.
She said, contrary to popular belief, influenza is actually a lung infection, not gastrointestinal. Most people who experience intestinal problems probably have the Norovirus or some other infection. Symptoms of influenza and H1N1 include fever and upper-respiratory infection so serious it could lead to bacterial pneumonia.
She suggests frequent hand washing, covering coughs and staying home when symptoms occur to prevent the further spread of germs.