Beginning Oct. 1, the Forsyth County Department of Health will offer free flu shots to the public.
The Health Department has ordered more than 5,000 doses of the flu vaccine, which is recommended for those six-months-old and older and can significantly reduce the chance of contracting influenza.
“The Forsyth County Health Department provides the flu vaccine at no cost to everybody, so there’s no reason for anybody, regardless of their insurance status, to not get the flu vaccine if they want it,” said Felicia Stewart, the Health Department’s immunization program manager.
While recent flu seasons have started early and affected many, Stewart said there are no indicators to determine the severity of the coming season. County residents should remain vigilant, nonetheless, she said, by taking such precautions as washing their hands regularly.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the flu virus is contagious, thriving in cooler and drier environments, hence its strong hold in fall and winter.
He said the “sneaky virus” changes its protein coat every year, which is why the flu vaccine is tweaked each season and why a vaccine is required each season.
Flu symptoms are numerous and unpleasant.
“It causes a respiratory infection usually with a sore throat which goes on to cough, but unlike routine colds, influenza has a lot of systemic symptoms or symptoms you feel all over your body,” he said. “So your fever is a lot higher; you usually get a nasty headache with it; your body aches and you just feel lousy.”
Stewart said those who get the flu should avoid school, work and other places where others can be easily infected. Ohl said mild cases can be treated with rest and over the counter meds. Flu sufferers who do seek medical attention should inform their doctor’s office that they have flu symptoms so they can be given a mask to wear in the waiting room to protect other patients.
The flu can be especially serious in children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, which is why these groups should always be vaccinated, Ohl said. It’s also highly recommended for pregnant women and those who work with populations vulnerable to the disease. The virus can be deadly. Flu kills about 15,000 people a year in the United States, according to Ohl.
Flu shots are also available at physicians’ offices and pharmacies, but usually at a fee unless the vaccine is covered by insurance. Some large companies provide the shots free to their employees as a way to maintain productivity.
Although there are many flu vaccine skeptics, Ohl wholeheartedly recommends the shot.
“We encourage everyone to get it, from little children up to older people,” he said.
Shooting down one myth, Stewart said the vaccines contain no live virus, so it’s not possible to get influenza from the shot.
“It is the best way to protect yourself from the flu and the flu can be a serious illness,” she said.
Flu shots are available starting Tuesday at the Health Department, 799 North Highland Ave., in Clinic 3. They will be administered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Thursdays from 1–7 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. The shots will be given while supplies last. Due to the increase locally in whooping cough, a vaccine to protect against it, Tdap, will also be available at no cost.