Limited Robins flu vaccine supply to be offered to active duty, high-risk groups

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Flu season has arrived, and the 78th Medical Group has a limited supply of vaccine to help ward off the flu virus.

Vaccinations for seasonal influenza are being given first to all active duty members, persons deploying, health care workers involved in direct patient care and on-base child care providers. Medically high-risk individuals who are enrolled with the 78th Medical Group for care will also be offered vaccinations. Vaccinations are mandatory for active duty.

"The flu shot is still the best prevention we have against the flu annually," said. Lt. Col. Janette Goodman, 78th MDG's Public Health Flight commander. "It's our main means of force protection during any flu season."

Those considered to be high risk for the flu include children from six to 23 months, individuals over 65, anyone with underlying chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and health care workers on chronic aspirin therapy.

It is undetermined when vaccines for dependents and civilians who are not high risk will become available.

"As additional vaccine is received, appropriate announcements will be made so we can continue to provide top quality care," Colonel Goodman said. "We ask for everyone to understand our focus on those individuals most critical to our national security or at greatest medical risk."

Colonel Goodman said the vaccine is useful in enduring this year's flu season, but using commonsense health practices is also important, especially since you may not realize you have the virus.

"Flu germs can infect others a day before symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick," Colonel Goodman said. "Therefore, it is possible to give someone the flu before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick."

She said everyone should remember to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitizer, muffle coughs and sneezes with tissue instead of bare hands, avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth, drink plenty of fluids, exercise regularly and eat healthily.

She also said to avoid close contact with people who are sick or have just been sick. Those who are sick should stay home.

Seasonal influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Colonel Goodman said 200,000 people are hospitalized every year due to flu complications. In addition, the flu accounts for approximately 36,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

A new influenza strain, known as novel H1N1 flu, or "swine flu," was first reported in humans in the U.S. in April. As with seasonal flu, novel H1N1 flu is believed to spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. Both can also be spread by touching objects with the virus on it and then touching the mouth and nose.

Vaccinations for H1N1 are expected to be given in November.