Arm yourself against the flu

Flu season, a time of coughing, fever, chills and body aches, is under way.
It's not too late, however, to prevent the flu from ruining your holiday plans.
"Anytime is the right time to get your flu shot," said Lynne Laws, Community Health Services nurse supervisor at Catawba County Public Health. "Based on information from the (Center for Disease Control), the flu vaccine is effective all year."
This season's flu vaccine will protect recipients against the 2009 H1N1 virus, as well as two strains of the influenza virus, H3N2 and influenza B. This means that most people require only one vaccine this year to protect themselves against seasonal flu and H1N1. Last year, most people received two vaccines.
The H1N1 virus caused the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Researchers try to predict prominent flu strands to include in the flu vaccine each year, and they base their vaccine make-up on those predictions. Last year, the H1N1 virus surfaced after the flu vaccine was in production, making it necessary to create an additional shot to combat the virus, said Kellie Coffey, Catawba County Public Health public information officer.
The vaccine takes several weeks to become effective in a patient's immune system.
"We see flu cases in February and March, so even if you haven't gotten it yet, you can still get protected," Coffey said.
To ensure everyone is protected this season against the influenza virus, Catawba County Public Health encourages everyone older than 6 months old to receive a vaccine.
"Catawba County Public Health has planned flu clinics throughout many geographical areas of Catawba County in an effort to increase vaccination rates," Laws said. "We want to make it easy for everyone to get the flu vaccine, since it is the best way to protect yourself against the flu."
Public Health will offer walk-in flu clinics throughout flu season at Catawba Valley Medical Center. The clinics will operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The cost of the shot is $20. Pneumonia shots are available for $52. Adults with Medicare Part B only and Medicaid-eligible or uninsured children can receive the vaccine for free.
Public Health will also offer an additional opportunity Dec. 3 for residents to receive a flu shot. The distribution is at Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory from 3-6 p.m.
Area drug stores and pharmacies also offer the vaccine to eligible residents.
"The goal is to bring the vaccine to areas where people live," Coffey said. "There are a lot of places in the community to get the vaccine."
Common side effects from the flu vaccine include soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the injection site.
Although hand washing and other good hygiene practices can keep the flu virus at bay, Coffey said the flu vaccine remains the best way for people to protect themselves against the flu.
According to the Center for Disease Control, it's difficult to predict flu severity from season to season. It's possible, however, the 2009 H1N1 will resurface and spread during the 2010-11 flu season.