The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is encouraging all residents to receive a flu vaccination this year. The department has also released tips for avoiding and fighting the influenza virus.
"We never know exactly when the flu will strike here in Missouri, nor can we predict how many people will become ill with the flu," said Jane Drummond, DHSS executive director. "We can be certain, though, that the flu is coming, it will make people sick and even take the lives of some Missourians.
"We also know that, if people will take these three simple steps, they can greatly lower their risk of getting the flu or becoming seriously ill if they can't avoid it," said Drummond. "We really hope Missourians will do all they can to fight the flu this year."
The first step to preventing the flu is to receive an influenza vaccination each year. Although Missouri's flu season typically peaks in January or February it can strike anytime between now and the spring, which means that it is never to early to get vaccinated.
Children and teens between the ages of 6 months and 18 years and adults over the age of 50 should be especially concerned about receiving a flu vaccination.
Other individuals who should receive the flu vaccine include: children receiving a long-term aspirin therapy; women who will be pregnant during the flu season; healthcare personnel; nursing home residents; household contacts of children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 50; individuals with high risk or chronic medical conditions; and persons planning to travel abroad.
Although the flu vaccine is effective in preventing many types of pneumonia, individuals who have chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are encouraged to discuss obtaining an additional pneumonia vaccination with their physician.
The influenza vaccine was manufactured and distributed on schedule this year. Earlier this month, the Barry County Health Department received 2,000 doses of flu vaccine, which is the same amount that the department received last year.
"They're producing more vaccine now than they ever have, and at this time, shortages are not an issue," said Kathleen King, Barry County Health Department administrator.
The Barry County Health Department has given around 500 flu vaccines so far this year. Vaccines are available on a walk-in basis at the health department's offices in Cassville and Monett.
Individuals interested in receiving a flu vaccination can visit the Cassville office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or the Monett office from 8 a.m. to noon or 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Businesses interested in scheduling a time for health department staff members to vaccinate staff members at their business location should contact Carol Landstad, health department public health coordinator, at 847-2114.
This year, individuals receiving the flu vaccine should be prepared to pay a $15 charge with cash or check at the time that the vaccine is given. The health department will no longer perform insurance billing, including Medicare roster billing.
"We're trying to keep the cost down so everybody who wants to get a flu immunization can afford it," said King. "At $15, it's pretty inexpensive, and it's stayed at the same price for at least the past four years since I've been here."
Individuals with insurance are encouraged to submit their own claim to their insurance company for flu shot reimbursement.
On Nov. 4, St. John's Hospital-Cassville will offer an additional flu vaccine clinic. Medicare Part B recipients who bring their cards to the clinic will receive the vaccine with no out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals who do not receive Medicare benefits will be charged $15 for the flu vaccine.
"The vaccines will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, and we are encouraging those who are at high risk to get the vaccine first," said Vivian Beckwith, outpatient nursing manager.
Influenza vaccines will be available in St. John's Hospital-Cassville Conference Room B from 8 a.m. to noon next Tuesday.
In addition to receiving a flu vaccine, the DHSS encourages individuals to take everyday precautions against the flu.
Individuals can prevent the spread of the flu virus by covering their nose and mouth with a tissue or paper towel when they cough or sneeze.
Frequent, thorough handwashing is also a key way to prevent picking up or spreading the flu virus from person to person or surfaces.
Individuals who acquire the flu are encouraged to stay home from work or school and limit contact with others in the community to prevent spreading the virus further.
Persons directed to take flu antiviral medicine by their physician are reminded that the medicine should not be considered a substitute for the vaccination. The medicine can make the illness milder and prevent serious flu complications, but individuals should still receive the vaccine to prevent contracting the flu virus.
For more information on the influenza vaccine, call the Barry County Health Department at 847-2114 or visit cdc.gov/flu/, dhss.mo.gov/Immunization/ or dhss.mo.gov/Influenza/.