Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Illinois state public health director, is encouraging health care providers to work together to ensure that high-risk individuals get the flu shot.
“For most healthy people, influenza is uncomfortable but not a serious health threat,” Dr. Whitaker said. “But for some people, the flu could lead to serious complications or even death. Because of the currently limited vaccine supply, we need to work together to ensure the flu vaccine reaches those who are most at risk for complications.”
Local health departments are encouraged to reach out to their community partners and doctors’ offices to determine the availability of vaccine. Dr. Whitaker is also asking Illinois community groups and businesses that have purchased vaccine for low-risk individuals to defer these vaccinations and to notify their local health department about the supply. This will allow the local health departments to coordinate efforts to administer the flu vaccine to high-risk populations.
The Department is continuing to identify ways to protect as many high-risk Illinoisans as possible and will continue to consult with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure quick response to any new developments.
Health officials were notified Tuesday by Chiron Corp. that none of its influenza vaccine would be available for distribution this flu season. Chiron Corp. was to produce between 46 million to 48 million doses of influenza vaccine for the United States this flu season. It is anticipated that 54 million doses of influenza vaccine from Aventis and another 1.1 million of FluMist nasal spray will be available.
High-risk individuals are encouraged to check on vaccine availability with their health care provider and, if no vaccine is available, to contact their local health department.
“The bulk of the vaccine supply is in the hands of physicians and other private health care providers, so that’s the best place to start,” Dr. Whitaker said. “High-risk individuals need to be persistent in trying to find vaccine.”
The influenza vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza among healthy adults 65 years of age or younger and those who do get ill will typically experience milder symptoms. People who are allergic to eggs, who have an acute illness with fever or who have previously had onset of Guillain-Barre syndrome during the six weeks after receiving influenza vaccine should check with their physician before getting the vaccine.
The flu season usually runs from November until April and often peaks between January and March. While October and November is the best time to be vaccinated, a flu shot can be given any time during the flu season.
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract and spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Flu symptoms include fever (usually 100 degrees F in adults and often higher in children), dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue.
After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within one to four days. The infection is considered contagious for up to five days after symptoms appear and illness usually lingers for a week or two. Each year, an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of the population contracts influenza.