Health officials urge flu vaccinations

In an effort to help protect the public from influenza, health officials in Pierce and King counties are issuing reminders that that flu vaccinations – some of them free or low-cost – are widely available as a primary defense.
Flu can cause fever, coughing, sore throats and body aches for several days, and can be fatal in severe cases. Nationally, as many as 49,000 people have died annually from the flu, including 10 in Pierce County in the past year. In King County in 2012-13, 15 deaths were attributed to flu, including eight people 65 years old or older.
Vaccine provides protection against three or four strains of influenza, depending on the formulation you receive, according to the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. Officials said this flu season may be worse than others because the dominant circulating flu strain typically causes a more severe illness leading to more hospitalizations. Although so far the vaccine does not appear to be closely matched to the dominant circulating strain, the vaccine can still offer some protection against severe illness. If you are having flu-like symptoms, especially if they are severe or if you are at higher risk for complications, contact your healthcare provider right away to see if antiviral medication is recommended.
“Getting a yearly flu vaccination through a shot or nasal spray is the single most important means of protection against the flu,” said Nigel Turner, the communicable disease control director for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Annual flu immunizations help protect particularly vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals. Immunizations also keep doctor visits and sick days down, and they can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, according to Turner.
He said getting a flu vaccination is especially important for people at high risk, including children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease and neurologic conditions. Babies under six months old are too young to get vaccinated, but people in close contact with babies should get vaccinated to protect the infants.
Flu vaccines are available at healthcare professionals’ offices, pharmacies and some local health agencies.
Information on vaccination locations is available from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department at and from Seattle-King County Public Health at
In addition to getting a flu vaccination, other steps you can take to prevent or reduce the spread of the influenza virus include:
• Washing hands. Frequent washing is one the most effective ways to reduce the spread of germs. Wash with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t easily accessible.
• Staying home if you’re sick. Viruses can’t spread as quickly if they aren’t shared with co-workers and classmates.
• Covering coughs. Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand, to cover your mouth when coughing.
• Keeping it clean. Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephones, computer keyboards and mice, and other surfaces you touch frequently.