New River Health District to offer free flu shots at Pulaski YMCA

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The New River Health District, based in Christiansburg,  will offer free seasonal flu vaccine on Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Pulaski YMCA, 615 Oakhurst Ave. in Pulaski.

Vaccine will be available free to anyone 18 years and older on a first-come, first-served basis. A total of 150 doses is available. Those seeking the flu vaccine should wear clothing that is loose around the arm so that a public health nurse can administer the flu shot in the upper arm.

The purpose of this exercise is to simulate a mass vaccination event in which the health department and local agencies would work together so community members could be vaccinated efficiently during a time of emergency. An example would be a worldwide outbreak of influenza, also known as an influenza pandemic.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza and its potentially severe complications,” said Noelle Bissell, M.D., director of the New River Health District. “Our goal is to vaccinate the entire community, and this follows the success of our recent clinics in Radford and Floyd, where we vaccinated more than 200 people.”

“Herd immunity develops when more people get vaccinated,” Dr. Bissell explained. “There is less virus present to potentially infect those who cannot be immunized, such as infants under 6 months old. This helps protect everyone from this potentially deadly disease.”

Influenza is a serious disease caused by a virus that affects the respiratory tract. It is highly contagious and generally spreads from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can be transmitted even before flu-like symptoms appear.

A person usually becomes sick one to three days following exposure to the virus. Typical flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue.

“The timing and duration of flu seasons vary,” Dr. Bissell said. “They can occur from early fall to late spring. Receiving an annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of becoming sick with the flu and spreading the virus to others. When more people get vaccinated, less flu can spread through the community. It takes up to two weeks to develop the vaccine’s full protection.”

All persons aged 6 months or older should be vaccinated against influenza each year. Particular effort should be made to vaccinate people at higher risk for influenza complications,. This includes pregnant and postpartum women,or those who will be pregnant during the influenza season; persons over 65 years of age, including residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities; people who have chronic lung or heart problems, including asthma; and people who have other serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, anemia, cancer, weak immune systems (including those with HIV) or a seizure disorder.

To help prevent the spread of influenza to people in high risk groups, those who live with people in a high risk group and healthcare workers should also receive an annual influenza vaccine. Travelers to countries outside of the U.S. may also need to consider influenza vaccination, even at different times of the year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza has resulted in as many as 49 million illnesses, up to 960,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths annually in the U.S. since 2010.

To minimize your risk of contracting or transmitting the flu, follow these simple steps: get vaccinated; wash your hands thoroughly and frequently for at least 20 seconds; cover your cough, either by using a disposable tissue or coughing into your sleeve, not your hand; and stay at home when you are sick.

The vaccine is provided by the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Emergency Preparedness. For more information, call the New River Health District at 540-585-3300 or visit www.vdh.virginia.gov.