By CRISTIN REECE
If you’re looking to avoid catching the flu this cold and flu season, now’s the time to get a flu shot.
Texas Department of State Health Services officials are encouraging people to get their annual vaccines and report supplies are plentiful. This year’s version of the influenza vaccine is supposed to protect against four strains of the virus, and is available as a shot or as a nasal spray for people ages 2 to 49 who are healthy and not pregnant.
Clients are required to make an appointment for a shot at the local branch of the Department of State Health Services, which recently relocated to 330 E Spring St., suite D.
“We do have plenty of vaccines to go around but some our qualifications have changed,” said Anita Shook, administrator of the Anderson County branch of the state department. “We aren’t able to give shots to any adult that has insurance or qualifies for Medicaid or Medicare. We’re only able to serve those adults who have no other resource.
“We are able to administer shots to children who qualify for Medicaid; children who aren’t included on any insurance plan; or if an insurance plan doesn’t cover the shot at all.”
Qualified individuals may call the county office, 903-729-1116, to make an appointment.
Other local venues for flu shots include both chain pharmacies, Walgreens and CVS. Neither entity requires an appointment and accepts most forms of insurance.
The flu is caused by various influenza viruses. The vaccine is formulated each year to match the strains of flu researchers expect to be circulating. This year’s vaccine protects against the strains A/California/7/2009 (H1N1), A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2), B/Massachusetts/2/2012 and B/Brisbane/60/2008.
“We have already seen an increase in flu activity in Texas, and now is the time to get vaccinated,” DSHS infectious diseases medical officers Dr. Lisa Cornelius said in a release published at the department’s website, www.dshs.state.tx.us. “A dose of vaccine now will help protect people throughout the flu season. There is no reason to put it off.”
Flu symptoms come on quickly, can be severe in some cases, and include fever, coughing, sore throat, aches, chills and fatigue. Healthy people recover without problems after a week or longer. The elderly, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health conditions are at higher risk for serious complications and even death, so officials said it is especially important for people in those high-risk groups to be vaccinated.
Besides getting a flu shot, people can help stop the spread of the flu and other illnesses by covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze — officials also recommend coughing or sneezing into the crook of the elbow, rather than the hands to help keep from spreading germs; washing their hands frequently and refraining from touching their faces or eyes; and staying home when sick.