Fulton Countians can rest assured that should it be needed, a mass dispensing plan is in place to vaccinate or dispense medication to the residents of the county in a short period of time. On Nov. 10 the Fulton County Health Unit took part in a one-day mass flu vaccination clinic and administered 361 flu shots at no charge.
"It was fantastic how organized everything was," Martha Hall said shortly after she received her free vaccination. "It took about 8 minutes from the time I walked in the door until I left. They had it planned very well."
Fulton County Health Nurse Wanda Koelling, who was in charge of the planning, said she was pleased how smoothly the clinic went. "It took a lot of volunteers to make this clinic such a success," Koelling said. "We planned this to take care of as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time and it went very well. We learned from past clinics that the registration took the most time to complete, so we added enough clerks to keep things moving well."
Koelling said that the Salem flu clinic was one of 81 throughout the state administered by each county's health unit. "We were given the choice of days, Nov. 8, 9 or 10. I chose Saturday morning to make it a little more convenient for everyone to take advantage of this," Koelling said. According to the Arkansas Department of Health over 32,000 Arkansans received a free flu shot in day one of the three day exercise. The clinics were held to allow each county an opportunity to practice its Local Mass Dispensing Plan which would be activated in the event of a pandemic or disaster. In addition to a free flu shot, residents participating in the clinic were given a family handbook on preparing for emergencies, terrorism and disasters.
Al Roork, the Office of Emergency Management Coordinator for Fulton County, said the Salem High School gym was chosen for several reasons. "This is a centralized place for the county," Roork said. "It's the largest parking area we have in the county and the gym gives us a lot of room to work with. We have separate places to enter and exit; a place to seat a large number of people and keep them out of bad weather should that be necessary. Although we hope it's never needed, this gives us a good place to take care of a large number of people in a short amount of time, in the event of a flu pandemic or other natural disaster."
Koelling said that plans are underway for a clinic this spring that will bring together emergency response teams from across the county who would be called on in the event of a local disaster.
To prepare for this year's flu season, Koelling said the best way to protect yourself and your family against the flu is to get vaccinated. "If you were unable to get a free flu shot Saturday, the Health Unit will have the vaccine available," Koelling said. The cost for a flu shot is $20 for anyone not enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid or the Vaccines for Children Program.
The vaccine takes 10 days to 2 weeks or more to provide adequate protection from the flu. The flu is a sickness that infects the nose, throat and lungs and is caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and occasionally stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. It can cause mild to severe illness and results in 25-50 million infections and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.
The flu is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth.
According to James Phillips, MD, Infectious Disease Branch Chief at ADH, you can't catch the flu from flu shots. "The flu shot contains a small amount of dead virus that is just enough to get your body's immune system ready to fight off the real flu when it comes around this winter. If you're young and healthy, the flu vaccine may be 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing illness." For older adults who are at high risk, a flu shot can reduce hospitalization by as much as 70 percent and deaths by 85 percent.
Though all persons over 6 months of age should get a flu shot each year, those most at risk for influenza complications are: those in nursing homes; individuals over 50 years of age; persons with chronic diseases of the heart, lung and kidneys, or who have diabetes, asthma, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia; women who will be pregnant during flu season; children and teens on long-term aspirin therapy. Children six months through five years of age should receive the flu vaccine due to the increased probability of severe illness in this age group. Daycare situations make these children especially vulnerable. Health care workers are also at greater risk for passing influenza infection on to high-risk individuals and should be vaccinated.
The best time to be immunized is between mid-October and mid-November. This allows your immunity to peak during the height of the influenza season, which is generally December through March.
For more information about getting a flu shot, contact the Fulton County Health Unit at 895-3300.