Flu season expected to be moderate this year

Thursday, September 2, 2010 | 6:53 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Some Columbia residents may be stuck at home with the flu, but medical folks say that isn’t evidence of any unseasonal outbreak.

“Flu is always around randomly,” Jason Zerrer, a doctor at Providence Urgent Care, said.

The urgent care center has had three or four cases of influenza in the last few weeks, he said.

“H1N1 has thrown the regular flu season out of whack,” Zerrer said.

In spite of the effects of last year’s pandemic, this year’s flu season is not shaping up to be anything extraordinary, Kit Wagar, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said.

“This year, we’re thinking it’s going to be a little more normal of a flu season,” Wagar said.

The H1N1 flu strain has not disappeared, Wagar said. Instead, it is expected to be one of the standard seasonal flu strains circulating this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine this year, in contrast to its previous recommendation that the vaccine be given to specific at-risk groups and people in contact with those groups. Boone County Health Department spokeswoman Geni Alexander said that these recommendations should help protect people who may be at risk that would not have gotten the shot in 2009.

“There were some healthy children that got really sick and even passed away,” Alexander said.

This year’s flu vaccination will offer protection against H1N1, in addition to two other strains that the CDC expects to be prevalent this fall. Unlike last year’s H1N1 shot, this year’s will not be offered free of charge.

The federal government purchased the H1N1 shots last year to inoculate the public, Alexander said. This year, those with Medicaid and Medicare will receive the vaccine at a reduced cost, but others will have to rely on private insurance or foot the bill themselves.

“Last year it was free because there was a pandemic, and the government was making sure that everyone had access to the vaccine,” Wagar said.

Walgreens has already begun advertising the vaccine. Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy has received the flu shot, but plans to offer it to long-term care facilities and home health agencies instead of distributing it through a clinic, Kilgore pharmacist Bill Morrissey said.

The Boone County Heath Department usually has two to three vaccination clinics, Alexander said. These clinics are designed to provide the flu shot quickly for a large number of people.

“In the past, we’ve had people from the front door to the back door in five minutes,” Alexander said.

State health authorities do not expect any strain on supplies, Wagar said. He also isn’t expecting everyone to take the CDC’s recommendations to heart.

“A lot of people choose not to get it,” Wagar said. “We should have plenty of vaccine available.”

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