The flu is dangerous and highly contagious. That’s why the Bradley County Health Department is on alert each flu season to help prevent its spread in the community.
The start of influenza season is as unpredictable as the virus. It can begin as early as late September and sometimes last into May of the following year. In Tennessee, flu activity is typically worst during February and March. Because the virus is continually changing as it comes in contact with other illnesses and strains, the vaccine has to be reformulated every year to maintain its effectiveness.
Eloise Waters, director of the Bradley County Health Department, says the FDA approved the 2012-13 flu vaccine on Aug. 13. The County Health Department should begin making the flu shots available to the public no later than Sept. 1. The shots will be free to those who qualify. Others may be charged a small fee depending upon family income.
The CDC says Influenza is one of the nation’s biggest killers and affects people of all ages. The center’s records show that between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population are affected by the virus each year. If that rate of infection holds true during the upcoming flu season we could potentially see as many as 20,000 Bradley County residents fall ill from the virus. This leads to more hospital and doctor visits which places a heavy demand on our health-provider network.
There are several things we each can do to avoid getting the flu. The FDA, CDC and Bradley County Health Department believe one of the best prevention methods is to get an annual flu shot. It is especially important to get vaccinated this year because two of the three virus strains used in this season’s influenza vaccines differ from the strains included in last year’s vaccines. The vaccination is especially recommended for those under 6 months of age or older than 65, those who are seriously ill and anyone with a compromised immune system. These are the people who are at higher risk for hospitalization from influenza.
There are also some practical things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus. First, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Medical researchers say this is the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of any disease. You should also avoid or minimize contact with sick people. A minimum distance of three feet is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your mouth and nose with tissues when you cough and sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible. It is also a good idea to stock up on food supplies and medications. If the virus spreads rapidly, staying indoors and away from others is a wise thing to do.
Eloise Waters and the staff at the Bradley County Health Department provide a great service to this community and play a vital role in protecting our public health. They identify and assess community health needs, provide strategic health planning and help develop preventive health programs. Their immunization and health screening programs are in place to not only protect the public’s health, but also help ease any concern we may have about the spread of disease and sickness in Bradley County. The focus of public health initiatives is on preventing disease rather than treatment, and giving you the ability to make informed health choices through information and education.
To inquire about a flu shot, contact the Bradley County Health Department on or about Sept. 1. They are located at 201 Dooley Street S.E. in Cleveland and can be reached by calling 728-7020 and pressing “0.”
Health professionals can do a lot to inform and protect us. However, the responsibility ultimately falls to the individual. It is important that you take every precaution available to protect yourself, your family and your community.
In summary, cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands often and get your flu shot.