Health officials battling to reduce flu season’s bite here

Health officials battling to reduce flu season's bite here South Dakota counties colored dark blue have the best ability to meet the flu immunization needs of priority patients. Clay County�s vaccine supply is enough to treat 55 percent of this group. by David Lias The nation may be reeling right now from the recent news that its expected supply of flu vaccine for this season has been cut in half.

The forecast for Clay County, however, isn't nearly as grim, according to Tim Tracey, CEO of Sioux Valley Vermillion Medical Center.

Of the 13,000 people who reside in the county, 4,100 qualify to be grouped among South Dakotans with priority health needs who should first get the flu vaccine.

"We have about 2,200 doses, so we're short about 1,800 doses," Tracey said. "About 55 percent of the people in Clay County (in the priority group) � we have the ability to meet their need if they request it.

"We're in far better shape than most of the counties. There are only two counties in the state � Hughes and Minnehaha � that actually have enough vaccine to cover all of their priority population."

There's enough flu vaccine in all of South Dakota to treat 45 percent of the state's priority population. "We (in Clay County) are at about 55 percent, so we're actually doing a lot better than most counties."

Sioux Valley Vermillion Medical Center had planned a flu clinic earlier this month. It had to quickly cancel that event when the news broke of the supply shortage.

"We did that so we could circle the wagons and decide what to do to try and get flu vaccine to those in the most urgent need of it," Tracey said.

The medical staff was asked to identify people who should receive the vaccine first, based on their illness history or patient profile. "We're in the process of doing that right now. The physicians are doing that for us, and they've participated very well."

Clinics scheduled

He said two flu clinics will be held for people who physicians recommend should get the shots first.

One clinic will be held Oct. 29 in the conference room of the hospital. People who receive the vaccine at this clinic "will have

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to have seen their physician and gotten a referral from their physician first."

The second clinic will be held Wednesday, Nov. 3, at the hospital conference room.

"Those two clinics will take care of, we hope, the people that physicians have identified as being at most risk," Tracey said.

Half-day immunization clinics will be held Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 for people who are Medicare-age, or carry a Medicare card. The clinics will be held at the Senior Citizen Center. The vaccine will be distributed on a first come-first served basis.

"We really believe by that time that we will be out of vaccine," Tracey said.

The Sioux Valley Vermillion Clinic, the hospital and the care center are taking steps internally to protect people who may be at highest risk.

All of the nursing home residents will receive a flu shot, as will some health workers who provide direct hands-on care to patients.

"Everyone's health is very important to us," Tracey said. "But we also need to be very protective of those people who are at most risk."

Protect yourself

Mary Jo Olson, a Vermillion physician, said people who don't fall into a priority category and may not get a flu shot this year can take steps to ward off the virus.

"Make sure you cover your mouth and nose whenever you sneeze or cough," she said. "Do that into a tissue, and then throw that tissue away."

If a tissue isn't available, use your sneeze. It may not sound nice, Olson said, but it works.

The Sioux Valley Vermillion Clinic will also provide disposal safe masks to people in the waiting room who request them.

"Avoid contact with people who are sick," she said. "Wash your hands often with soap and water. Or, you can get alcohol-based towelettes. You can also use them on shopping carts and

door knobs, places like that."

Olson recommends people avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. "Germs are spread very easily that way," she said.

And, when you are sick, stay home.

Other ways people can protect themselves, she said, is simply to follow good health habits. Get plenty of sleep. Be physically active. Manage stress. And drink plenty of fluids.

Target groups for influenza vaccination

?Persons at high risk or increased risk for complications.

?Persons 65 years of age or older.

?Children 6 months old to 23 months old and their caregivers.

?Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities that house persons of any age who have chronic medical conditions.

?Adults and children who have chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including children with asthma.

?Adults and children who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus, renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies, or immunosuppression, including immunosuppression caused by medications.

?Children and teenagers (age 6 months to 18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy that might put them at risk for developing Reye�s syndrome after influenza.

?Women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season.

high risk.

Persons aged 50-64 years

Vaccination is recommended for persons aged 50-64 years because this group has an increased prevalence of persons with high-risk conditions. Persons aged 50-64 years without high-risk conditions also receive benefit from vaccination in the form of decreased rates of influenza illness, decreased work absenteeism, and decreased need for medical visits and medication, including antibiotics.

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