Instead of cringing at the thought of possibly running into your sickly coworker under the mistletoe or of sitting through the Christmas dinner next to your sneezing uncle, this year give the gift of a flu shot. Duane Reade pharmacies make it easy as they no longer just offer flu shots—the number one defense against influenza—for walk-ins, but rather line the shelves by their cash registers with gift cards for flu shots that one can buy and bestow on their un-vaccinated friends and family.
Influenza is not just a bad cold; it’s actually a seasonal lung infection caused by different viruses and symptoms include fever, dry cough and body aches. The best way for both adults and children to prepare for flu season is to get vaccinated, and to remember to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or the inside of an elbow—not hands—and to avoid any unnecessary contact between hands and face.
The New York City Health Department has set up a surveillance tracking on its www. nyc.com/flu website tallying the influenza-like illness admissions from 49 hospitals in NYC. The tracking, which began Oct. 3, is recorded in weekly intervals and is broken down to boroughs and age groups. All boroughs, except Staten Island, saw a spike in admissions in recent weeks.
It is interesting to note that most admissions recorded are of children, with children between infancy and 4 years having the highest number, and children 5 to 17 having the second highest, with 5 or less admissions a week.
The Health Department has emphasized the need to vaccinate school-aged children due to the fact that it not only protects them from influenza, but it also prevents them from spreading it in highly populated places such as schools, day-care centers and playgrounds. Everyone between the ages of 6 months and 18 years is recommended to receive a flu shot.
Others that the Health Department recommends to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza are pregnant women, health care workers, those with compromised immune system, anyone 50 years or older and those living with or caring for children under 6 months.
“A thousand New Yorkers lose their lives every year to flu and related cases of pneumonia,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg Oct. 6, when he and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley got their own flu shots and urged everyone to do so before the flu season really got underway.
For those who haven’t done so yet, there is no reason to despair.
“It is never too late to get your flu shot,” said Erin Brady, a Health Department spokesperson. In fact, the Health Department warned in early January 2010 that influenza season was far from over, and recommended that New Yorkers get their flu shots if they haven’t already. The peak of flu season is generally between late December and early March.
“Vaccination is quick and easy and can save lives. So don’t take the risk of severe illness, or even a week of misery. Get the vaccine today,” Farley said two months ago. “The best way to protect yourself and loved ones is to get immunized.”
“Unlike most vaccines, the flu shot must be given annually because influenza viruses change every year,” said Heath and Hospitals Corporation President Alan Aviles.
This year’s seasonal flu vaccine covers three virus strains—H3N2, 2009 H1N1 and influenza B. This is a welcome change from last year, when the 2009 H1N1 shot was separate from the seasonal flu vaccine.
Getting vaccinated has become quite easy in NYC, as anyone over 18 can just stop at their local pharmacy. There is also an option of nasal spray FluMist, rather than the flu shot, for those needle-averse between the ages 2 and 49.
The easiest way to locate the nearest pharmacy or clinic offering flu shots is to call 311 or log on to www. nyc.gov/flu and type in the zip code of the desired area. If the pharmacy does not accept health insurance, the flu shot costs anywhere between $25 to $50.