Flu season usually peaks in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Hamilton County public health began its flu clinics on Sept. 10.
Registered nurse at Hamilton County public health Dawn Trujillo said now is the perfect time to get vaccinated because flu shots are effective much longer than in past years.
"It used to be that a flu shot didn't last you maybe four to five months, so people were really hesitant to get it too early in the fall because they wanted it to hold them over in the spring," Trujillo said. "Now, it's good for a year."
Stephanie, a direct care worker at Hamilton County public health, left, receives her flu shot from Registered Nurse Dawn Trujillo. Public health has vaccinated about 400 people at flu clinics during September.
She said fears that one can get their flu shot too early are now unfounded. Since they last a year, Trujillo said it's better to get the shot early. That's because it takes one's body about two weeks to build up immunity to these viruses after inoculation.
Flu shots immunize one against three kinds of influenza viruses that researchers determine will be the most common through the flu season. Those immunizations take various lengths of time to develop. But, this year they were made available earlier than usual.
Each year, influenza B viruses, influenza A (H1N1) viruses and influenza A (H3N2) viruses are used to produce the seasonal flu vaccines. Trujillo said the flu virus mutates in a way that new vaccines are needed yearly. That also means that it is possible for a strain to spread that was not predicted.
"It's kind of a hit and miss. You never know if another one is going to creep in. You kind of take your chances that way, but some protection is better than none," Trujillo said.
Flu vaccines also do not protect against stomach flu. Trujillo said the immunizations help prepare one's immune system for flu viruses that affect the lungs and upper respiratory system.
The flu presents several issues for healthcare professionals like Trujillo. She said illnesses including colds and pertussis, often called the whooping cough, are often misidentified as influenza. Unless a person is tested for the flu, it can't be proven. Even then, Trujillo said doctors want those infected with the flu to stay home and wait it out, barring serious complications, because of how easily it can spread to healthcare workers and other patients.
Influenza usually shows symptoms of high fever, moderate to severe fatigue and weakness, extreme exhaustion and headaches, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Those symptoms are uncommon or rare in in colds and whooping cough. However, Trujillo said there's no true way to know other than a diagnosis from a medical professional.
The flu clinics at the public health building have seen a steady flow of people, according to Trujillo. She said they have given about 400 immunizations. Public health would like to give more, but she said the nice weather has people not thinking about flu season. Public health has several more flu clinics coming up soon. Trujillo said if a person can't make those dates and times, they can set up an appointment with public health by calling (515) 832-9565. Calling ahead is the only way public health will accept walk-ins.
"The biggest problem we have with people walking in is we don't always have a nurse in the house. If anybody is going to come in on an off-date for a flu vaccine, that's all fine, just call before you come to make sure there will be a nurse available," Trujillo said.
Most insurance companies cover the cost of the vaccine. They also bill medicare with part A and B. Otherwise, it costs $25 for the standard flu vaccine and $50 for the high dose vaccine.
The flu vaccine is for almost everyone over six months of age, according to Trujillo. The state of Iowa provides them with a flu vaccine specially made for children ages six months to 18 years old. The vaccine is distributed to public health at no cost, and if they meet eligibility, they can receive it for free. They also have a flu mist, which is inhaled through the nose, as an alternative to a shot. A child has to be at least two with no history of lung or heart disease to receive flu mist.
The high does vaccine, which has more antigens, is only for people over age 65. It is not required for seniors, as Trujillo said there are some wary of receiving a higher dose. However, she said that about 98 percent of seniors do get the high dose vaccine.
The only people who should not get the flu vaccine, according to Trujillo, are those who have had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine and those with egg allergies. People with a moderate to severe illness should wait until they recover to get the vaccine. But, those with strong, underlying illnesses should definitely get the vaccine, according to Trujillo, because the flu can complicate those illnesses.
The next walk-in clinic is on Oct. 10 at the Public Health Building in Webster City from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are also clinics on Oct. 21 during a pancake breakfast at Webster City Middle School from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a clinic on election day at Asbury Methodist Church from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Child clinics for children 6 months to 18 years old will be on Oct. 9 at the Public Health Building from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 11 from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.