Vaccinations for the flu are still available, recommended by experts in Sacramento region

The Sacramento Bee held an online chat this week to field questions about the flu and immunizations. Kate McAuley, immunization assistance program coordinator for Sacramento County’s public health office, joined Bee health care reporter Cynthia H. Craft to answer readers’ questions. The full chat can be read on the Healthy Choices blog, www.sacbee.com/healthy-choices.

How bad is the flu this year? Already a lot of people seem to be sick around me.

McAuley: The peak of the flu season has started earlier this year, and we are having a lot of cases.

Craft: If you want to check out the latest figures for the flu statewide, the California Department of Public Health’s weekly flu report is updated every Friday. Here’s a link: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/data/statistics/Pages/CISPDataArchive.aspx. But the statewide figures run about a week behind the county’s.

Do you advise the flu shot for everyone?

McAuley: Yes, if anyone has not yet received a flu shot and they do not have any condraindications to the flu shot. One major contraindication is an egg allergy, although this year there is a vaccine which is safe for those with an egg allergy. There are recommendations for children over 6 months of age to be vaccinated. Pregnant women need a specific flu shot and those with chronic diseases, too. Your doctor can provide more information.

Is the flu shot safe?

McAuley: Yes. The flu vaccine has been available for many years. The CDC collects data on adverse reactions to all vaccines, including the flu vaccine. Providers are required to report any adverse effects. There have been few untoward effects in general.

If you get the flu, when is it safe for your co-workers for you to return to work?

McAuley: When a person has not had a fever for 24 hours, it is safe to return to work.

What’s the best advice to keep from getting sick with the flu?

Craft: Get your flu shot. Wash your hands often. Stay a distance away from those who are sick. Take good care of yourself.

What does the flu virus do to your body? What’s its plan of attack?

McAuley: The flu virus challenges the immune system and causes inflammation in the lungs in particular. It can be devastating to some people as it progresses, causing fever, extreme tiredness, cough and muscle aches.

Is the flu shot effective?

McAuley: Recently, the flu vaccine has been about 60 to 70 percent effective.

Craft: Experts say it’s better to get a vaccine than get the disease, which is riskier to your health. This year, for the first time, there is a quadrivalent vaccine, covering four strains of the flu virus instead of the three ... more typically offered. But it may be hard to find. As far as retail outlets go, Walgreens offers the quadrivalent. However, all the flu vaccines offered this year target the H1N1 virus, the predominant strain this flu season.

Here’s a website to find out where to get the flu shot near you. Just type in your ZIP code and you’ll find retail outlets like pharmacies near your location: flushot.healthmap.org

What’s your best advice for caring for a sick child with the flu, please?

McAuley: Monitor the temperature and their general level of awareness. Rest, fluids. More at www.flu.gov. There’s a tab on caring for someone sick at home.

Do you expect the flu season to get worse?

McAuley: That’s a tough question. We are in the peak of the season, which is January to February, so we have a few weeks to go. It’s not too late to vaccinate! If anyone has more questions, call the county’s Immunization Assistance Program at (916) 875-SHOT / 875-7468.