ANNAPOLIS – Amid the focus on the possible threat from the H1N1 virus, health officials are urging that people remember the importance of the seasonal flu vaccine, which is now available at many doctors’ offices and health departments across the state.
“H1N1 is obviously important, and we think it will have an impact on our community, but so will seasonal flu,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy health officer for public health at the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. Even with the annual emphasis placed on the seasonal flu shot, most Americans, including those most at risk, still don’t receive the vaccine, Chan said.
Anne Arundel County, Gov. Martin O’Malley and others are hoping to take advantage of the heightened public awareness surrounding H1N1 to remind the public about the dangers of seasonal influenza.
Seasonal flu affects five to 20 percent of the population every year, causing more than 200,000 hospitalizations with flu-related complications, and roughly 36,000 deaths from flu-related causes nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site. In Maryland, an estimated 800 to 1,000 people die as a result of complications from the flu, said Frances Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Some supermarkets and pharmacies in Charles County are already offering the seasonal flu vaccine, said William Leebel, the public information officer at the Charles County Department of Health. The county itself has the vaccine in stock and will soon open vaccination clinics.
“Absolutely we’re focusing on the seasonal [flu] right now, and we’d like to have folks take advantage of getting [the seasonal flu vaccine] as early as possible,” Leebel said.
It could be very easy for people to forget about the seasonal flu vaccine with all the coverage of H1N1 in the media, said Carroll County Health Officer Larry Leitch. But he noted that, compared with H1N1, seasonal flu kills many more Americans every year. “The death rate or mortality rate from the swine flu is just a fraction of what it is for the seasonal flu,” Leitch said. The seasonal flu shot remains very important, especially for certain groups, such as the elderly, he said.
Annapolis Pediatrics, a pediatrics medical practice with four locations in the Annapolis area, started receiving supplies of the intranasal FluMist at the beginning of August, with the injectable vaccine arriving a couple of weeks later, and has been dispersing it to patients, said Jane Howson, the nursing supervisor.
Similarly, the Frederick County Health Department has received “a good portion” of the vaccine supply it ordered, said Darlene Armacost, program manager for communicable diseases and preparedness.
In Montgomery County, most private healthcare providers have received the vaccine and public providers have started to receive their shipments, said Mark Hodge, immunization coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Phillips argues that people can take an obvious step to help prevent the flu.
“The good news is that there’s a vaccine for it and so there’s every reason for people of any age to get a seasonal flu shot this year,” Phillips said.