Flu season arrives in Cullowhee

An altered version of this story was published in The Sylva Herald.

As flu season begins, WCU students and community members are urged to get their flu shot.

WCU faculty and staff got free flu shots Oct. 12 and 13, 2016. Photo by WCJ.

WCU faculty and staff got free flu shots Oct. 12 and 13, 2016. Photo by WCJ.

WCU’s health services starts a prevention campaign as students come back from fall break, with flu shots available in Bird Building and mobile flu clinics through October. These $20 quadrivalent flu shots protect against four strains of flu virus and last for six months.

The Jackson County Health Department also provides the vaccines at their facility from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

At least for now, there’s ample vaccine available. Manufacturers of the flu vaccine predict they will provide between 157-168 million doses for the 2016-17 season, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Locally, the health department “has an adequate supply of flu vaccines and have the capability to order more as needed,” Assistant Health Director Melissa McKnight said.

There are choices. Three versions of the vaccine are being offered by JCHD:

· For $25, protection against three likely strains of flu virus.

· For $30, protection against four likely strains of flu virus.

· For $45, a shot for people 65 and older that offers a higher dose for a better immune response.

A variety of insurances can be billed for the cost of the shot

People at the highest risk for getting the flu are children younger than five (and especially younger than two), adults 65 and older, pregnant women, nursing home and long-term care residents and people with certain medical conditions.

The CDC recommends that everyone more than six months old get a yearly flu shot. Depending on the vaccination type, it can protect against up to four strains of flu that are predicted to be the most common based on previous years. Protection begins two weeks after vaccination.

Seasonal flu can begin as early as October and continue until May, but the peak occurs between December and March. Flu prevention and vaccination clinics are common in October as flu activity begins to increase.

During the 2014-2015 flu season, North Carolina recorded the highest number of flu-related deaths in six years. Of the 218 reported deaths, 180 were people age 65 and older.

Data for the current, 2015-2016 season is not yet available.

Harris Regional Hospital spokesperson Lucretia Stargell said the hospital offers “focused efforts on community education about flu prevention.”

Any employee who doesn’t receive a flu shot must wear a surgical mask within six feet of a patient, visitor or patient-care area, she said.

“If and when there is confirmed flu activity in the community, the hospital will implement standard visitation restrictions and share a communication plan around those restrictions,” Stargell said.

County employees are not required to get flu shots, “but it is strongly recommended,” McKnight said. “A nurse from our agency will be doing outreach visits to county employee agencies all month to offer vaccines.”

Another flu-prevention method is the intranasal influenza vaccine, commonly called FluMist, which has been declared ineffective by the CDC for the 2016-2017 flu season.

FluMist is three to five percent effective, compared to the 52 to 55 percent effectiveness of the vaccine.

WCU’s Director of Health Services Pam Buchanan said that flu mist has never been part of the immunization protocol for students or faculty.

“I would like to tell you that we always run out of vaccine, but that’s not true,” Buchanan said. “I’ve experienced in my time here that students do not feel that the flu shot is important to them, unless it is required for a program they are in, such as health services and student teachers.”

An estimated 400 students, of about 10,000, are vaccinated on WCU’s campus each year.

The number of flu shots given to faculty members is much greater, according to Buchanan. At least half of the workforce gets a flu shot on campus.

“People probably don’t understand that we’ve almost moved to a place in the community where the flu never goes away,” Buchanan said.