It's not flu yet. But the coughing and sneezing heard in Juneau is a preview of the influenza season, which already may have begun elsewhere in Alaska.
"As soon as school starts, viruses start circulating again," said Dr. Beth Funk of Anchorage, a member of the infectious disease team in the state's epidemiology office. "We had a report from the Matanuska-Susitna area of two direct test positive cases of influenza early in September, but those were not confirmed by culturing."
Influenza can cause fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache and muscle aches. It causes thousands of deaths a year, chiefly among the elderly. Those at risk, or people in close contact with them, are advised to obtain vaccinations early in the season, which runs nationally from November to April.
This year's flu shots will target three strains: A/New Caledonia, A/Moscow and B/Sichuan.
"Most of Alaska's flu outbreaks occur after the first of the year," Funk said. "When flu comes into a community, it will stay there for six to eight weeks. So it's still valuable to get vaccinated when it appears."
It takes two weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies.
"So if you get vaccinated in November or December, there is still ample time to get your antibodies revved up," Funk said.
The Juneau Public Health Center has ordered 1,000 doses of vaccine and hopes to schedule clinics for high-risk people by mid-October, said Kathy Miller, nurse manager.
"We haven't heard anything about this being a particularly difficult flu year," Miller said.
She noted that Juneau Urgent Care has vaccine available. Carrs and the Juneau Medical Clinic said they are planning flu vaccine clinics, but dates have not been set.
Fred Meyer will take names of high-risk people and set up appointments, depending on the number of doses they receive, said Janet Arens, pharmacy manager. After Nov. 1, when they have more vaccine, they will advertise open clinics, Arens said. Other businesses and clinics also offer flu shots.
The Centers for Disease Control are recommending early supplies of vaccine go to people at greatest risk of influenza complications and health-care workers. They include:
* Everyone 65 or older.
* Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care or assisted-care facilities housing people with chronic medical conditions.
* Adults and children who have chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including asthma.
* Anyone who has had medical treatment or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction or immunosuppression including HIV.
* Children and teens, 6 months to 18 years, receiving long-term aspirin therapy.
* Women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.
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