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HEALTHWATCH : Clinic Tries to Get a Jump on Flu Season : A Ventura staff has begun offering shots to the public. Some say the viruses could be epidemic this season.

September 30, 1993|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Halloween decorations have been in the stores for weeks now. Christmas seems to arrive earlier and earlier each year. So why not usher in the winter flu season immediately after the conclusion of summer?

Staffers at the Buenaventura Medical Clinic did just that last weekend, when they offered free flu shots to the general public.

The early precautionary measures are in line with recommendations by folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who, after studying recent flu patterns around the world, say they would not be surprised by an early and powerful flu season in the United States.

Each year, CDC scientists try to predict which three flu virus strains will be most prevalent during the annual flu season.

This year they've chosen the A/Beijing strain, the A/Texas strain and the B/Panama strain. They are particularly concerned with the Beijing variety.

"It's a little early, but part of the reason (for getting flu shots now) is the feeling that there is likely to be a flu epidemic," said Dr. Steven Glinka, a physician at the Buenaventura Clinic. "The Beijing flu has been going around the world. It hit the U.S. late last year, and the feeling is that it will be back and will be a big player this season."

Sue Hyatt, immunization coordinator for the Ventura County Public Health Department, said the Beijing immunization is the same as last year's, though the strain has mutated somewhat.

"There's no way we can say exactly what is going to happen," she said. "Typically, we suggest people get their flu shots in November, but we are suggesting they get it earlier this year."

The county's health department will begin administering vaccinations Saturday morning at Oxnard Community Center. Shots will be given at other public locations, periodically, through Nov. 4. Last flu season, the county administered more than 15,000 vaccinations.

Though the idea of flu shots may seem a little premature--what with sunny, warm days and no signs of winter--local pharmacists have already heard reports of suspiciously flu-like symptoms.

"It starts with stomach cramping and turns, very rapidly, into a respiratory infection," said Nancy Lee of the Port Hueneme Drug Co. "It can go from a sore throat into a large infection."

Lee said there is not much the sufferer can do about the viral illness, other than simply ride it out. Problems can arise, however, when it becomes a bacterial infection.

And avoiding bacterial infections, said Glinka, is the main reason behind flu shots. "The real danger from the flu," he said, "is from bacterial pneumonia attributable to it. It's really the complications that are the problem."

Glinka recommended flu shots specifically for people with chronic respiratory conditions, those over age 65, and children with conditions that would be exacerbated by the flu. "Generally it's not given to young, healthy adults," he said.

He warned against flu shots for people who are allergic to eggs. "The flu virus is grown using egg as a gross medium," he said. "That's the only real contraindication."

Concerns about flu shots actually infecting the recipient with the flu virus itself are no longer valid, said Glinka.

"You hear people talking about getting a reaction from flu shots (and) getting the flu," he said. "That was true in the early years (the 1950s), when the vaccine was done with a live virus."

But now, said Glinka, the vaccines are made with virus particles. "They're perfectly safe," he said. "They've been that way since the late '70s."

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