This year, shots are only option to protect against flu

The mist was discontinued because of concerns about its effectiveness.

EVERETT — There’s plenty of flu vaccine this year, but you’ll only have one choice on how to get it.

FluMist, the alternative to shots, isn’t available because of concerns that it’s not effective.

So it’s shots only for everyone, from tots beginning at 6 months of age to adults.

“To get vaccinated you do have to get a shot,” said Dr. Mark Beatty, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “Now is the time to get vaccinated.”

Typically, reactions to the vaccines are minor, such as a sore arm, muscle aches and low fevers. It takes about two weeks for the shot to become effective in helping fight off the flu.

Not everyone has a reaction to the vaccine, Beatty said.

“For those who do, it’s still better to get the vaccination. Having the inconvenience of a poke in the arm is better than being hospitalized or spreading the flu to other people,” he said.

Flu symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fatigue and headache. Vomiting or diarrhea can occur, although it’s more common in kids than adults.

During the 2016-17 flu season, 450 people were hospitalized in Snohomish County with flu-related complications, ranging in age from an infant to someone who was 100.

A total of 45 people died, including an Everett teenager.

Each year, the types of flu that circulate can change. The effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well the predictions of the types of flu that will hit in a given year match the virus-fighting agents in the vaccine.

Flu vaccines reduce the chances of becoming ill between 40 percent and 60 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu shots are available at local clinics and pharmacies.

A study published earlier this year in “Pediatrics,” showed that the shot helped significantly reduce childhood deaths from influenza, according to the CDC.

Stronger types of flu shots are recommended for those 65 and older. Several brands are available. They either have a higher dose of vaccine or produce a stronger immune response against influenza.

Even healthy adults in that age group should opt for one of these vaccines, Beatty said.

The shots were developed for older adults because they have weaker immune systems.

The state Department of Health is among the organizations recommending the special shots because they’ve been shown to be more effective than standard-dose vaccines in preventing influenza in older adults.

“We believe there is now enough convincing evidence that those 65 and above should receive one of the approved vaccines specifically tailored for seniors,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues for The Everett Clinic.

An estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur among seniors. And half or more of flu-related hospitalizations occur among this age group, according to the CDC.

Although it’s widely available, seniors might have to ask for the special vaccine, Tu said.

They are not recommended for anyone younger than 65.

Flu shots do more than protect against influenza. They also can help prevent other health problems caused by being sickened, such as pneumonia, heart attack and stroke, Tu said.

Immunizations help prevent pregnant women from becoming seriously ill from influenza. They are at higher risk of hospitalization and even death from the flu, and the virus can cause premature births, according to the CDC.

A recent study in the publication Vaccine discussed a possible association between flu vaccine and miscarriages. But The Washington Post reported that experts think the research is too preliminary for the advice on immunizing pregnant women to change.

The risk of contracting influenza far outweighs the risk of miscarriage, Tu said. All pregnant women, their spouses and children should be vaccinated, he said.

It’s too early to know how hard influenza will strike in western Washington this year.

A handful of people have tested positive for influenza at The Everett Clinic. And several people have been hospitalized in Spokane with medical problems triggered by the flu, said Heather Thomas, spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.

The biggest months for the spread of influenza usually are December, January and February. Flu season typically lasts 12 to 16 weeks.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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