Parent, ND health officials urge flu vaccinations (copy)

Gov. Doug Burgum, left, receives a flu shot from Bismarck Burleigh Public Health nurse Naomi Friesz at a press conference to highlight the importance of getting the annual flu vaccine on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the state Capitol. In North Dakota, the flu season is generally from January to March.

You don’t have to be immunocompromised or aging to catch the flu and die from it.

That’s a little-talked about fact when it comes to the influenza virus, and a driving force behind a statewide effort to encourage people to get their flu shots this year.

The Upper Missouri Health District, which includes Williams Count,y has ordered another 500 or so doses of influenza vaccine, and is now well-stocked on this essential wintertime gear. They had been running short of the vaccine earlier this year.

It is not too late to get the vaccine.

“Now is still a good time,” said Juliet Artman, Prevention Team manager for the Upper Missouri District Health Unit. “While the flu generally peaks in January and February, it can be caught year-round, even in summer months.”

There have been 271 laboratory-identified cases reported to the North Dakota Department of Health so far this year. Artman was not sure how many of those are in this region.

While many people who get the flu do recover, the stories of those who did not recover quite so easily, and, in some cases, did not recover at all, are not as uncommon as you might think.

“So many people think catching the flu is not a big deal,” Artman said. “But, in actuality, you can become severely sick, be hospitalized, and die. People just don’t believe it can happen to themselves or their family members.”

Artman, however, has seen it happen, even to the young and seemingly healthy.

“There’s even a whole website about that,” she said. “It’s called familiesfightingflu.org and it is story after story of family members who have passed away or nearly did so. It is truly heart-breaking.”

Among these is an Arizona teenager named Luke Duvall, a healthy football athlete who spent 12 days in a coma and was hospitalized for 30 days after catching the flu.

“I really hope everyone gets the influenza vaccination,” Duvall says in telling his story after the fact. “What I have been through has changed my life forever. Except by the grace of God, I would not have survived.”

He survived, but many of the others who were also at Arkansas Children’s Hospital with the flu did not.

“I can’t help but think how different things could have been for me and for them if we had all been vaccinated,” he said. “Since leaving ACH, my whole family and I have gotten the vaccine. Don’t wait. Get the Shot!”

People have a variety of reasons they give for skipping the flu shot, but Artman said people can be confident that the flu shot is both effective and safe.

“People need to be more confident in it, because it would reduce the cases extremely if everyone got it,” she said. “They really put a lot of work and study into what strains are going to be around. They look throughout the world to figure it out.”

Another common myth is that vaccines may somehow weaken the immune system. That’s just not the case, Artman said.

“It actually strengthens the body’s ability to fight off the flu,” she said.

Exposing an individual to a portion of a heat-killed or an attenuated virus is a little like giving someone all the answers to a pop-quiz a few weeks ahead of time. The person has plenty of time to study and ace the test.

Vaccines work just like that in the body. The exposure to heat-killed virus or attenuated virus gives the immune system a chance to really get to know its enemy before the exposure is real, and potentially deadly. This dramatically speeds the immune system response if and when there’s a real exposure to that particular strain of virus.

It takes the body about two weeks to fully develop a full-blown immune response on a first exposure to a pathogen. That’s too slow for many diseases, like flu, measles, and small pox.

The immune response after vaccination can be more like hours the second time around, helping people fight back quickly and survive what would otherwise have been a fatal illness.

In the first two weeks after a shot, the body’s protection is not yet developed. It is possible to catch the flu in that timeframe. In addition, while immunity is being developed after a shot, the immune system is producing more lymphocytes, which may cause minor symptoms like fever. This is normal and means the vaccine is working.

The Centers for Disease Control has a publication explaining in more detail how vaccines work online at https://bit.ly/2R8qJwC

There also are flu vaccines that are egg-free, for those with allergies to that ingredient, Artman added. While the Upper Missouri Health Unit doesn’t have that particular kind of vaccine, they can be requested through a provider if needed.

“We do have plenty of vaccine, and we are waiting to take everyone’s call,” she said. “People can always call us if they have any questions on the safety of the flu vaccine.”

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