The flu season has arrived, and although the disease is widespread across Tennessee, the number of cases in the immediate area appears to be average. To reduce further spread of the illness, the Metro Moore Health Facility, located at 251 Majors Blvd. in Lynchburg, is offering free flu shots.
“Vaccination is the best protection against the flu, and the Metro Moore Health Facility and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine every year,” said Debbie D. Broadway, the Tennessee Heath Department’s public health county director. “It takes about two weeks to be protected after you get the flu vaccine, so we want everyone who hasn’t had their flu shots to get them now.”
The free flu vaccinations will be available to area residents — adults and children alike — until the supply is depleted. Appointments must be made to receive flu vaccine, and are now being scheduled at the clinic. Appointments may be made by calling (931) 759-4251. The clinic is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until noon and 1 until 4:30 p.m.
While the flu virus has impacted a handful of school systems before the holiday break — including Fayetteville City Schools, where Ralph Askins Elementary, Fayetteville Middle School and Fayetteville High School were closed for two days — Metro Moore County schools have not been hit hard so far.
“We’re surprised we haven’t seen as (many cases) as needed to close the school,” said Lynchburg Elementary School Principal Thomas Fuhrman. “Tuesday we were still under 10 percent out, which is still pretty high. We’ve seen some flu (cases), but I don’t think that we’ve seen it at the level of other schools.”
Fayetteville City school officials said 20 percent of the school population — primarily in the elementary school — was affected by the virus.
Moore County school officials made sure faculty members at all three schools had access to free flu shots in early December.
“We had 40 faculty and staff members participate, which is good,” said Moore County Schools Nurse Shea Logon, R.N.
Metro Moore Director of Schools Chad Moorehead said he thinks the holiday break has come at just the right time.
“I can’t say that this year is abnormal as far as flu season,” added Moorehead. “We have been lucky that we have not had to close schools or run out of substitute teachers. But we have been close on substitute teachers.”
While health officials recommend the flu vaccine, there are other simple ways to help deter the spread of the virus. Officials say to make sure to cover the mouth when coughing, wash hands frequently, and stay home when ill. Because people tend to spend more time indoors during colder months with the heat increased, an environment for flu-related germs to thrive is created. The result is that flu viruses tend to spread more rapidly.
Although Moore County isn’t seeing widespread flu cases, department of health officials say the scenario statewide is different.
“This is the earliest start to an ordinary flu season in Tennessee since 2003, with seasonal flu now spreading in communities across our state,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner said. “People who are still unvaccinated are at increased risk of getting sick and spreading the virus to others. It’s very important for people who are not yet vaccinated to do so now.”
Dreyzehner and Gov. Bill Haslam have received their annual flu vaccinations and urge all Tennesseans to get vaccinated against the flu.
The CDC said the vaccine is a good match for the flu strains currently circulating in the U.S.
CDC officials caution the most common strain of influenza this season tends to cause more severe cases of illness, particularly among the elderly. Seasonal flu activity is now highest in the Southeastern and South Central United States, according to the CDC.
“With the earlier start of flu activity in Tennessee, we can expect to see significant influenza activity through January or February, and it is capable of lingering as late as May,” said Kelly Moore, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “It’s not too late to benefit from vaccine.”
The flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for serious illness or death from influenza such as the elderly, pregnant women and young children, as well as health care workers and family and friends of anyone at high risk. The CDC recommends that expectant mothers be vaccinated during pregnancy to protect themselves and pass protection on to their unborn babies.
Influenza vaccine is the best defense against the flu, but some who are vaccinated will become ill anyway. For this reason, it’s also important to practice good health habits to ensure protection from the flu and other winter viruses and to prevent spreading them to others when one gets sick. Good health habits include frequent hand washing with soapy water, keeping hands away from faces and covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.
Those at high risk of serious illness gets who contract the flu should contact their healthcare provider to see if antiviral medication or other treatment is recommended to prevent complications, the CDC recommends.
For more information on flu vaccine, visit the department of health website at <http://health.state.tn.us/FluClinic/Default.aspx>.
By ROBERT HOLMAN, MCN Editor (Tullahoma News City Editor Brian Justice contributed to this story)