As the temperatures drop, one thing that becomes more likely to occur isn’t snow; rather, the flu starts spreading rapidly.
The wintertime sees an increase in children and adults alike coming down with the fever, chills, all-over body aches, headache, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. Some even experience vomiting and diarrhea, though these two symptoms are more common in children than adults.
With the emergence of flu season, the Tennessee Health Department (TDH) is offering free flu shots for those looking to do everything they can to ensure they have a healthy holiday season.
County health departments across the state will offer flu shots free of charge today, Dec. 5, in order to increase the number of people vaccinated in the state.
The effort is part of a statewide campaign to “FightFluTN” during National Influenza Week, which is Dec. 2 though 8, according to the state health department.
“Flu kills, and we expect many more weeks of the annual seasonal flu epidemic ahead in Tennessee, so everyone who hasn’t yet had a flu vaccine should get one now, and you can do so for free Dec. 5,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Flu vaccination is still the best protection we have against this serious and deadly illness.”
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, according to TDH. Influenza viruses can cause mild to severe illness in individuals, with more serious hospitalizations more likely for certain populations.
Older people, young children and people with certain health conditions are at a higher risk for developing serious flu complications.
Flu viruses are responsible for millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospital stays and thousands or tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 6,000 and 26,000 children younger than 5 years old have been hospitalized each year in the United States because of influenza.
The flu virus spreads mainly through droplets made when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.
A person can also get the flu by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.
Flu on the rise
While the flu is not a “reportable disease,” according to Public Health Educator Katie McMinn, the Tullahoma Clinic of the Coffee County Health Department has seen an increase in the number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms in recent weeks, per the department’s surveillance reports.
This, she said, “tells us seasonal flu activity is increasing across the state.”
“The surveillance system by no means gives us a comprehensive number of current flu cases, but does provide a snapshot of flu activity and lets us know when and where it is increasing,” McMinn said.
The best and easiest way to protect yourself against the flu, according to the health department, is to receive an annual flu vaccine. According to McMinn, those who get their flu shot now will be protected from the virus before Christmas.
During the 2016-2017 season, vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 influenza-related hospitalizations.
Even though there is a small chance people who are vaccinated will still get sick, the flu vaccine has been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of the illness, according to the health department.
An annual flu shot is recommended by the health department due to the ever-changing nature of the flu virus. Because the viruses are constantly changing, flu vaccines are updated form year to year in order to be most effective.
Free flu shots
From 9 a.m. to noon today, the Tullahoma clinic of the Coffee County Health Department will offer free flu shots to anyone needing their 2018-2019 vaccination. The clinic is located at 615 Wilson Ave.
Other area health clinics include the Manchester clinic, located at 800 Parks St., which will be open from 9 a.m. to noon, and the Moore County Health Department, located at 251 Majors Blvd, which will be open from 9 a.m. to noon.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.