NASHVILLE (AP) — Flu season is hitting its stride but it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Many county health clinics are even offering the vaccine for free.
Dr. Kelly Moore, the medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program, said flu season usually peaks in January or February.
“The south-central and southeastern U.S. are seeing a lot of flu right now,” she said. “This is the area of the country that is hardest hit right now.”
The flu season can even extend into April or beyond. In 2009, the health department continued to see flu throughout the summer.
“One of the challenges is that there’s a real drop-off of people getting flu vaccines after Thanksgiving,” Moore said. Although there may be many reasons for the drop off, Moore said one of those is that “people often, in their minds, think it’s too late.”
The vaccine is especially important for people who run a high risk of developing serious complications. That includes pregnant women, children under 2 years old and adults aged 65 or older. The last group accounts for 90 percent of the deaths from seasonal flu each year, Moore said.
It is also important for people in those high risk categories to seek medical attention quickly if they develop flu-like symptoms, such as a high fever, body ache, sore throat and cough. There are treatments that can make a bout of flu less severe but they are most effective when started immediately.
And Moore warned that unvaccinated people who already experienced flu-like symptoms this year should not assume they are out of danger. They may have had a bad cold or some other illness. Even if it really was the flu, Moore said, “the vaccine is not going to hurt you.”
And for those who are afraid of needles, a nasal spray is available for healthy children and adults between ages 2 and 49. For anyone 18-64, there’s also a vaccine that can be given with a short needle that goes just under the skin.
County health clinics across the state have been offering free vaccinations since last month, although some are starting to run out of vaccine.
“Check first before coming by,” Moore said.
There are also low-cost vaccines available at many pharmacies and private clinics.