Vaccinations available at several Methow Valley locations
By Ann McCreary
The arrival of fall also means the impending arrival of flu season, and health officials recommend that everyone older than 6 months get vaccinated to help protect against the flu.
Flu shots are being offered at the two medical clinics in the Methow Valley — Family Health Centers in Twisp and Confluence Health in Winthrop — as well as Ulrich’s Pharmacy in Twisp.
Health officials advise getting a flu vaccine before flu activity increases. The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, if possible. An annual vaccination is the best method to protect against the influenza virus, and takes up to two weeks to provide full protection, according to public health officials.
“Normally our flu season is November, December, January and February,” said Lauri Jones, community health director of Okanogan County Public Health. “Last year we had hundreds of cases of patients with flu symptoms in January, and the same for February.”
Jones said the county health department received reports of more than 500 people with flu-like symptoms in January, and more than 300 in February. Not all those patients were confirmed as having the flu, but many were likely infected with the flu virus, Jones said.
Although those numbers may seem high, Okanogan County and the nation as a whole have experienced comparatively mild flu seasons for the past two years, Jones said. “I’m hoping it continues,” she said. “But what we worry about is that people may become complacent. We want as much coverage [through vaccination] as we can.”
Jones said it’s important to get vaccinated before the holiday season, when people travel and are potentially exposed to illness in other parts of the country or the world.
Methow Valley residents can call to schedule an appointment for a flu shot for adults or children at Family Health Centers or at the Confluence Health clinic. Confluence Health is also holding clinics at the Winthrop office specifically for flu shots — one on Oct. 25 from 7 – 9 a.m. and another on Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. – noon. Ulrich’s Pharmacy is providing vaccinations for adults only on a walk-in basis Monday – Thursday.
A state program provides vaccines free for children, although an administration fee for the flu shot may be charged, Jones said. Local providers said adult flu shots cost about $20 – $25 and children’s shots are about $6, but health insurance generally covers the cost of the vaccination.
Each year the United States experiences a seasonal flu epidemic. Influenza infections begin to increase in October and November, and peak in December and February, according to the CDC.
Last year’s flu season was categorized as moderate by the CDC. So far this year in Washington, state health officials have reported minimal flu activity. No cases of the flu have been seen yet this fall in Okanogan County, Jones said.
Methow Valley residents seem to be aware of the benefits of getting a flu shot, said Misti Painter, a nurse at Family Health Centers. “We did give a lot of flu shots last year. We exceeded what we predicted,” Painter said. She estimated that about 350 residents got a flu shot at the clinic last year.
The vaccination appeared to be effective, because most of the patients who tested positive for influenza last year had not been vaccinated, she said. “I can say, as a health care worker, when you’re around ill people who are coughing in your face and you don’t get sick, it seems to work,” Painter said.
Each year the composition of the flu vaccine is updated to match circulating flu viruses, and protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue. People most at risk of complications or death are elderly or people with compromised immune systems.