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Monday, January 22, 2001

Flu shots will keep
virus away, health
officials say

By Janine Tully

Anyone wanting to avoid getting the flu should get vaccinated.

That's the word from the state Department of Health Epidemiology Branch, which in the last few days has seen an increase in the number of throat specimens containing the flu virus.

While no major outbreak is reported, doctors are seeing more patients with flu-like symptoms and sending the specimens for analysis, said epidemiologist Michele Nakata.

Now that the flu shot is available, Nakata recommends people get vaccinated.

"It will protect you from getting sick," she said.

Alice Leong, influenza surveillance coordinator, said the vaccine is effective because it "matches the virus that is circulating."

Hawaii's flu season has been linked to the influx of December tourists.

This year, however, it appears to have arrived a little later, coinciding with the flu incidence on the mainland, Leong said.

This year's Type A and B flu strains are milder than the Type A (H3N2) strain prevalent last year, she said.

"The feedback that I'm getting from doctors is that people are not getting extremely sick," Leong said.

Dr. Russell Wong, chairman of infection control at Kapiolani Medical Center-Pali Momi, said hospitals are not as busy as last year treating influenza cases.

"The ICU's are not very full," Wong said.

He also thinks manufacturers have done a "pretty good" job of developing a vaccine that fights the current flu strains.

Traditionally, the state has targeted at-risk groups for vaccination -- seniors 65 years old or older, residents of nursing homes, and adults and children 6 months old or older with diabetes, immune system problems and respiratory problems.

But epidemiologist Nakata recommends that anyone who wants to avoid coming down with the flu, including children, should get their flu shots.

Maureen Kauleinamoku, case manager for Aloha Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, attributes the lack of incidences at the facility to residents being vaccinated.

Common flu symptoms include high fever, backache, sore throat and coughing.

A list of community clinics providing vaccinations can be obtained by calling Ask Aloha United Way at 275-2000.

The toll-free Neighbor Island number is (877) 275-6569.

For more influenza-related information, people can log on to

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