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Flu season arrives in Jeffco

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Officials say getting vaccinated will help with symptoms, prevention

By Deborah Swearingen

Flu season has arrived in Jefferson County, and public health officials recommend residents get a flu shot sooner rather than later.

While many employers offer flu shots, and some may visit a primary care physician or local pharmacy to receive the vaccine, Jeffco Public Health offers the vaccination at the organization’s main office in Lakewood.

Upon arrival, patients register and are taken back to see a Jeffco Public Health nurse, who will administer the shot. The clinic is an all-inclusive experience, so patients can receive a variety of services, including other vaccinations and testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, while there for a flu vaccination.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue and more, and the illness ranges from mild to severe, and can cause hospitalization and death.

Data from Jeffco Public Health shows the number of hospitalizations climbing from 190 in 2016 to 458 in 2017. As of September 2018, there have been 372 hospitalizations due to the flu in Jefferson County.

On a statewide level, there were 3,340 flu hospitalizations in Colorado in 2016, and 4,650 in 2017.

However, it is important to note that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports on hospitalizations within the flu season, which usually runs from fall to spring, while Jeffco Public Health tracks for the entire calendar year.

Furthermore, each year, the flu vaccination protects against different strains of the virus.

“They do surveillance in the Eastern Hemisphere because it will occur there first in the world,” said Christine Schmidt, a Jeffco Public Health nurse supervisor. “So, the World Health Organization and its associates will monitor what strains are circulating, and then they do their best projection of what will continue.”

Nonetheless, viruses can change while traveling to the Western Hemisphere. Since the vaccine takes approximately six months to develop, it might not be a perfect match for the circulating strains in any given year. Last year, for example, Schmidt said the vaccine was not a great match. In 2016, though, it was a much better match, and the data reflects this.

Misconceptions

Some avoid getting a flu shot because they believe it can give them the virus.

Although a person who has received the shot can still get the flu, particularly if they are exposed to the virus before receiving the shot or in the two weeks following it, it is incorrect to say the vaccination is the cause.

“It does not cause the flu because the virus in the vaccine is very, very, very weakened,” Schmidt said. “… It can’t give the illness. So really, what the person is probably experiencing is the common cold.”

Regardless, even if a person does get the flu after having the vaccine, the fact that they did so will help lessen the symptoms, shorten the length of sickness and reduce the chances of hospitalization.

Plus, as registered nurse Melanie Rogers noted, it’s about more than keeping yourself healthy.

“It’s not just about you,” she said. “It’s about protecting your neighbors.”

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.