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Officials: Flu vaccine a good match

ALBANY, Ga. -- This year's flu vaccine contains the right mix to be effective against the main strains of flu in circulation this season, the top official with the Southwest Public Health District says.

"The vaccine does target the right strains. We can say with confidence that it will help protect you against the circulating influenza strains," said Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant in a news release.

Officials say children and young adults seem to be the hardest hit by influenza this season. The majority of confirmed flu cases in the Southwest Georgia area this season have been Type A, although there have also been positive test results for Type B influenza, Grant said.

Each year influenza experts analyze which flu strains are most likely to circulate in the coming season and develop a vaccine with the top three contenders, Grant explained -- but flu viruses have a tendency to be unpredictable and also mutate rapidly.

"Some seasons the vaccines match well with the strains in circulation, while other seasons they don't. This season, the vaccine appears to be a good match," she said.

Officials warn that since it takes approximately two weeks for a vaccine to become fully effective, people who have been exposed to influenza after receiving the vaccine can still get sick during that two-week window. Experts have also said that those who are inoculated and get the flu afterward will often have a milder case.

Emergency center officials with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital have said that many of the patients coming into the hospital with the flu who had been vaccinated are generally coming in with a strain not included in the vaccine.

The most recent data available indicate there have been no deaths reported in the district or in Georgia from the flu this year, although there have been hospitalizations, including a number of pediatric hospitalizations, Grant said.

Grant also stressed that it is important for those who are sick with flu to stay home until they are fever-free without medication for 24 hours, to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and to cover coughs or sneezes.

The first step public health officials recommend when a person suspects they have caught the flu is for them to call their health care provider and describe their symptoms. The provider will then determine whether they need the patient to come in for an examination, as sometimes they can make a diagnosis without requiring an individual to leave her or his sick bed and potentially expose patients and others with whom they come into contact.

"In addition, if someone in your household catches the flu, check with your healthcare provider about prescribing a medication called an antiviral that may prevent other members of your family from catching the infection," Grant said.

"But most importantly, if you haven't gotten vaccinated, it isn't too late. Flu season usually peaks in January or February, so it would be best not to put it off much longer. Check with your county health department or your healthcare provider. The sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner you are protected."