Flu ‘shot’ advised for all but youngest

A needle-free option is available this year

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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A virus with the ability to kill thousands across the country is expected to begin infecting people in the coming weeks and months.

Don’t worry. It isn’t the super-virus that sparked a worldwide plague in the new movie, “Contagion.”

No, it’s seasonal influenza, otherwise known as the flu.

It’s no pandemic, but each year about 30,000 people in the United States die from complications related to the flu, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer.

To combat the virus, health officials recommend that everyone older than 6 months get a seasonal flu vaccine every year.

“The vaccine is safe, and we need to get the vaccine not only to protect ourselves but to protect others in the community,” Melnick said.

People at greater risk of complications include children 5 years and younger, adults 50 years and older, pregnant women, and people with such chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease, neurologic conditions and diabetes.

People who work with vulnerable populations, such as health care workers and caregivers, are especially urged to get the vaccine, Melnick said.

Not too early

Even though autumn has barely arrived, Melnick said it’s not too early to get a flu vaccine. The vaccine takes a couple of weeks to build up immunity and then should protect people throughout the flu season, which typically runs through mid-spring, he said.

Clark County has yet to have a reported case of the flu this year. Clark County Public Health is working with local health providers, who will provide information about the number and type of viruses patients are experiencing, Melnick said.

Health clinics, physicians’ offices and pharmacies across the county have started offering flu vaccines.

The Washington State Department of Health provides flu vaccines to all kids younger than 19 at no cost. Providers may charge an administrative fee, according to the health department.

For the first time, residents also have the opportunity to receive a needle-free flu vaccine.

All Clark County Fred Meyer stores are offering traditional flu vaccines as well as the new needle-free option.

The needle-free device, called Biojector 2000, works by “forcing liquid medication through a tiny orifice that is held against the skin. This creates a very fine, high-pressure stream of medication that penetrates the skin, depositing medication in the tissue beneath,” according to the Bioject Medical Technologies’ website.

The plastic syringe is the only part that comes in contact with the patient’s skin. After each injection, the used syringe is discarded and a new one is inserted for the next injection, according to the company.

The needle-free immunizations will be among the millions of doses of the flu vaccine administered across the country. Last year, more than 160 million doses of the flu vaccine were produced, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.