With three strains of influenza virus expected this winter, health officials Tuesday issued the season's first reminder that the elderly and people with chronic diseases should get flu vaccinations.
Helping the Visiting Nurse Assn. of Orange County begin its vaccination program--one of two available to county residents this fall--were 15 barefoot and sweaty members of the Mighty Ducks hockey team, who rolled up their sleeves and submitted to vaccinations after a practice at The Pond in Anaheim.
"Aw, it was painless," defenseman Don McSween said after receiving his shot. McSween said he decided to get vaccinated because he feared frequent travel between hot and cold climates would increase his risk of catching the virus.
The nonprofit public nurses association will charge $10 per vaccination; county health officials also expect to administer free vaccinations to about 82,000 residents this year.
The free shots are reserved for those who could face serious, if not fatal, illnesses if they come down with the flu. This includes people older than 60, anyone with chronic diseases such as diabetes and emphysema, or those with long-term heart and lung problems.
For most people though, the flu merely causes several days of discomfort that include aches, pains, fever, chills, weakness, coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat. Some people remain under the weather for as little as 24 hours, while others are affected for as long as a week.
California's flu season typically begins in mid-December and peaks in January and February, said Dr. Loring Dales, chief of the immunization branch of the state Department of Health Services.
Health officials said they have no way of predicting what this year's flu season will be like, but early indications are encouraging. "Last year we had reports of the flu very early in the season, in August and September," said Dr. Gerald Wagner, medical director of the Orange County immunization project. But so far this year, there have been no reports of flu.
Health officials have identified three strains of influenza, each named after the place where they were discovered, that they believe will affect Americans this year: Texas, Shandong (China) and Panama. According to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Shandong is a new manifestation of the virus.
While some people face more risk from the flu than others, many health officials recommend that everyone get a shot.
"All of us can be affected and we could all come down with the flu and miss work," said Joan Q. Randall, executive vice president of the Visiting Nurse Assn.
She said American businesses lose an estimated $4 billion annually because of employees calling in sick with flu-related illnesses.
At least 80% of those who receive vaccinations will never develop the flu or suffer only reduced effects, state health officials said. The only reported side effect of the vaccination is a slight soreness in the arm that lasts a day or two.
The nurses' association has begun providing immunization shots at area Long's Drugs, Sav-On Drug Stores and Albertson's supermarkets for anyone age 13 or older each weekend through Dec. 11.
The county also provides free vaccinations to people 60 years or older and those with chronic diseases. This year, the Orange County Health Care Agency has received enough vaccine from the state to administer 82,340 shots.
Public clinics will begin offering the vaccinations Nov. 1. About 75% of the doses are administered in the first month, Wagner said.
The vaccine helps recipients build immunity to the virus beginning about two weeks after the shot and protects them for several months. One shot each season is enough for those 9 years and older, but children 8 years or younger may require shots more frequently, health officials said.
Besides getting a shot, health officials say the best way to avoid getting the flu is to wash hands often, get lots of sleep and avoid sick people.
For those who get the flu, health officials offer the following tips: Stay home and rest for the first three to five days, eat lightly and drink lots of fluids. Those who experience severe symptoms should see a doctor. Antiviral drugs such as amantadine or rimantadine may shorten the duration of the flu in adults if prescribed early.
Parents should give young children and infants acetaminophen medication, such as Tylenol, instead of aspirin to control fever.
Help for Flu Season
Free flu shots will be provided for county residents who meet eligibility requirements. The immunizations will be given to:
* Anyone 60 and older.
* Nursing home and chronic-care facility residents, any age, with chronic medical conditions.
* People with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders, including asthma.
* Anyone requiring regular medical follow-up because of chronic metabolic diseases.
* Children and teen-agers, age 6 months to 18 years, receiving long-term aspirin therapy.
* Those with compromised immune systems, including anyone with HIV or AIDS.
* Physicians, nurses and other hospital staff who have contact with those at risk for flu-related complications.
* Household members of those at risk of flu-related complications.
WHERE TO GO
Shots will be given at county Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Clinics at locations listed below. For additional locations, call (714) 834-8560.
* Buena Park, 7342 Orangethorpe Ave.
* Costa Mesa, 2845 Mesa Verde Drive
* San Juan Capistrano, 27512 Calle Arroyo
* Santa Ana, 1725 W. 17th St.
* Westminster, 6362 Industry Way
Source: Orange County Health Care Agency