SEBRING - A "quadrivalent" flu vaccine, which protects against four strains of the influenza virus, is one of the new options available this year as the flu season gets underway this month. Everyone 6 months and older should get their yearly flu vaccine, ideally by October, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida, the flu season peaks in January, said Barbara Moore, nursing director of the Highlands County Health Department's Community Health. No predictions have been made on how bad this year's flu season could be, Moore said, but last year's was mild. Since flu tends to be cyclical, it is possible this year's season could be "less mild," she said. The flu season has begun just as the federal government shutdown has affected the CDC's tracking of flu cases. Influenza surveillance reports are usually posted online weekly.
"Due to the lapse in government funding, regular updates to the CDC influenza website, including the weekly FluView report and updates to guidance for clinicians, will not be possible," the CDC states. "CDC will not be routinely analyzing surveillance data nor testing laboratory specimens submitted as part of routine surveillance. Support for outbreak investigations and response to public queries regarding influenza circulation and prevention will be limited during this time." While certain federal public health functions may be affected, supply of the vaccines is not, since private manufacturers make them, Moore said. She said it takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective and recommended that people get their shots by October, which would keep them covered during the whole season. Along with the newly introduced four-strain vaccines being offered are the traditional three-strain vaccines, or trivalents she said. A high-dose vaccine for seniors, who typically have weaker immune systems and may need higher quantities, also has been around for the last couple of years, she said. A flu-mist spray is also available for those from ages 2 to 50, she said. It may be more commonly offered by pediatricians, but is effective for adults, as well, although it is not approved for those over 50, she said. Both the trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines contain new strains from the previous season, the CDC states, adding it does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other, only that people get vaccinated every year. Because new strains of flu evolve every year, and since immunity drops up to 50 percent 6-12 months after vaccination, the flu vaccine is recommended every year for all those over 6 months of age, the CDC explains. People can get vaccinated at their doctor's office, pharmacies and the Highlands County Health Department's Sebring and Lake Placid clinics. The health department does not hold any more flu shot clinics in the community because the vaccines are readily available through other means, Moore said. To find out where to obtain a flu shot, go to http://vaccine.healthmap.org/ and type in your zip code. While health officials recommend a flu shot every year, not everyone gets them. Crystal Sipple said she got one the previous week and wished she never had. Delfina Pelayo never gets one, unlike Wes Linscott. "I have never had complications, and haven't had the flu for many years," he wrote on Highlands Today's Facebook page. Moore said that some people get the flu even after taking the vaccine because the vaccine may not contain the strain the person is battling or because he or she may already have had the infection. "The flu vaccine does not cause the flu," she said.