Avoiding the flu

Friday, October 29, 2004

Only two major suppliers were contracted to provide flu vaccine for the United States. When one supplier's vaccine was found to be contaminated, the news set off a wave of concern and a flood of questions.

As a result of the vaccine shortage, the U.S. government has asked that only those in high-risk categories -- the very young, the very old and people with chronic illnesses -- get flu shots this fall.

A total of 100 million doses of the vaccine was expected this year in the United States, up from 83 million doses last year. But the loss of up to 48 million doses being supplied by a British pharmaceutical company, Chiron Corp., reduces the total available to just over 50 million.

While 50 million-plus doses of flu vaccine aren't enough for everyone who wants a shot right now, it appears to be an ample supply to protect those most at risk.

In addition to the flu vaccine, doctors also have at their disposal anti-viral medications that can alleviate symptoms once you get the flu -- provided you seek medical attention as soon as the flu symptoms occur.

Even with more than 80 million doses of flu vaccine last year, millions of Americans did not, for whatever reasons, get flu shots. Only half of the nation's children, for example, got the shots.

And no one knows yet what strains of flu will be prevalent this year or how vicious they will be. In some years, those who get the flu don't suffer as much as in other years.

There are some simple, commonsense precautions anyone can take to avoid getting the flu. Probably the most basic is to wash your hands frequently -- really wash them, as your mother might say. Avoid contact as much as possible with those who have the flu or its symptoms. And seek medical attention as soon as flu symptoms show up. Most anti-viral remedies work best during the earliest stages of the infection.

Meanwhile, government officials are looking for alternate sources of vaccine. Whether or not enough doses can be found to make up the gap is yet to be seen, but not likely. So wash those hands. Often.

--Nevada Daily Mail