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Area Health Experts Urge Shots Before Flu Sneezin' Starts

September 28, 1996|DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the official start of flu season less than two months away, health-care workers are gearing up to immunize thousands of Orange County residents.

This year, medical experts are particularly wary about the advent of a potent influenza strain called Type A-Wuhan virus that can have deadly consequences for the elderly who are not immunized.

So they are urging senior citizens and others at risk to get their flu shots--available at community clinics, many local drug stores, some workplaces and doctor's offices.

The nonprofit VNA Home Health Systems of Orange County begins its flu-shot clinics today and hopes to immunize 12,000 people in coming weeks, up from about 11,500 last year.

Shots are $10 apiece at the clinics at Long's Drugs and Drug Emporiums throughout the county, and the fee is waived in some cases.

The Orange County Health Care Agency begins its own massive immunization program on Tuesday, stocking up with 80,000 doses of vaccine.

"Our goal is always to use every drop we get," said Mary Wright, the agency's immunization project coordinator.

Most of those doses will be distributed at 90 locations in the county, including senior centers, churches, hospitals and county health-care clinics.

The free shots are offered to three groups: people aged 60 and over; adults and children older than 9 who have serious medical conditions that can be made worse by flu, and adults and children older than 9 with chronic diseases such as asthma or conditions suppressing the immune system.

Flu activity can begin in November, but is generally not widespread until December and often peaks in January and February, said Nancy Arden, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Health experts advise people to get their shots before flu season begins in earnest, since several weeks are needed for the shots to take effect.

This year's flu vaccine has been designed to counter the three flu viruses anticipated in the United States: the dangerous Type A-Wuhan, Type A-Texas and Type B.

The county Health Care Agency has received no reports so far of influenza activity in the county, or of high absenteeism at schools or workplaces, said Dr. Hildy Meyers, medical director of communicable diseases at the agency.

UCI Medical Center in Orange has seen some patients in its emergency department in recent weeks with fever, aches, pains, and other flu-like symptoms but cannot say for certain if they were influenza victims, said Dr. Michael Hart, associate clinical professor of medicine.

And no increase in flu-like symptoms has been reported at Anaheim-based Kaiser Permanente or at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, spokeswomen said.

Many people not considered at risk for the flu have made flu shots part of their health regimen, medical workers say.

"What we're finding is that people in their 30s, who are busy and running around, are stopping at the clinics to say, 'I don't have time to get the flu,' " said Julie Schoen, director of senior services at Orange-based VNA.

Information about flu immunization is available from the county Health Care Agency, (800) 564-8448, or from the VNA, (888) 616-7468.

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