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StarBulletin.com

Flu vaccinations ready for season


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

State health officials are hoping for a mild flu season and that their message is getting through to the public about how vaccinations can prevent the serious contagious illness.

“;When we're talking about flu, it is not a common cold or a minor respiratory infection. ... It lasts longer and has potentially more severe complications, especially for infants and the very old”; and those with chronic medical conditions, said Dr. Sarah Park, chief of the Health Department's Disease Outbreak Control Division. “;If we're getting a message out to the public about vaccine as the most effective method of prevention, that would be awesome.”;

Flu monitoring begins on the mainland this week with the traditional start of the flu season, but in Hawaii the Health Department works with monitoring physicians year-round, Park said.

“;Although we do see a rise (in flu) in the traditional winter time, the last few seasons have been pretty mild,”; she said. “;It will be interesting to see how this season shapes up. If it turns out to be mild, maybe our school vaccine program is really making a difference, which is great.”;

Hawaii last year implemented the first statewide influenza program in the schools for students between ages 5 and 13. More than 340 public and private schools participated. More than 60,000 students, about 45 percent, and more than 9,000 faculty and staff received free vaccinations.

Park said the Health Department “;is looking forward to an even more successful program”; this year because parents are more familiar with it. “;Last year, the whole concept was very new.”;

Physicians also are receiving vaccine, she said, advising residents to check with their doctors or with schools about vaccinations.

“;The mainland had a pretty bad time of it last year,”; Park said. “;We were fairly mild. We'll see how things shake out this year.”;

Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said, “;The vaccine supply is very good this year and the strain is very good as well. CDC (Centers for Disease Control) believes this year's vaccine is a very good match to the circulating strain.

“;We're encouraging everyone to get their vaccination and we're gearing up to do our school-based effort (starting Oct. 15).

“;Any perceived risks for vaccine are far outweighed by the benefits of protecting a child from an illness that could potentially hospitalize them or result in death,”; Okubo added.

Vaccinations are recommended for: Children age 6 months to 19; pregnant women; people 50 and older; those of any age with certain chronic illnesses; people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; people who live with and care for those at high risk for complications from flu; household contacts of people at high risk for complications from flu; and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children under 6 months old.

Besides flu shots, nasal-spray flu vaccine can be used in healthy people ages 2 to 49. It's not recommended for pregnant women.