Be prepared: Get your flu jab — if you can. Government is sourcing a fresh supply. *iStock photo
Be prepared: Get your flu jab — if you can. Government is sourcing a fresh supply. *iStock photo

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16: Five thousand flu vaccines have been administered or supplied by the Department of Health so far this flu season.

That’s 2,000 more vaccines than were issued last year.

And with the year just starting, Government has run out of the vaccinations and they will not be available until further notice.

Asked why numbers had spiked this year, a Health Ministry spokesperson told the Bermuda Sun yesterday: “We suspect that more vaccinations were given as a result of the information provided by the Department of Health in conjunction with the increased press coverage of the influenza outbreak in the United States.”

A press statement issued earlier this week said “well over” 200 doses of the influenza vaccine were administered on Saturday at the Hamilton Health Centre.

The vaccine was $10 and free for seniors and children.

A previously scheduled vaccination clinic for today has been cancelled as a result. 

Dr Cheryl Peek-Ball, acting chief medical officer, advised the public to come early next year for the vaccinations. The vaccines usually arrive early November.

Dr Peek-Ball said in a statement: “It is reassuring to note that when the levels of vaccination coverage are sufficiently high in a population, those individuals who cannot be vaccinated for whatever reasons are afforded some protection by those who are vaccinated. 

“This is known as ‘herd immunity’ and is thought to be present in a community where the immunization levels approach 80% or more.”

The same statement also said: “The Department of Health is working with the Pan American Health Organization to source additional vaccine.

“The Department is encouraged by the level of participation in this preventive effort as it represents a well-informed community that acts appropriately and responsibly to protect its health against threats.”

The statement also said the public should be aware that various doctors’ offices do have limited supplies of the vaccine in stock.

The Department of Health will notify the public when a second supply of influenza vaccine arrives on the island.

Flu symptoms include fever, usually over 100.4 F, headache, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, upset stomach and fatigue.

Some cases of the flu may only have mild fever or no fever. 

Influenza virus is spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people infected with influenza.

It is also transmitted by hand, nose and mouth contact with articles which have been contaminated with flu virus.

The only way to prevent the flu is through the vaccine but you can reduce your chances of becoming affected by washing your hands frequently, covering your cough with a tissue, keeping common areas disinfected and observing social distance as much as possible. If you experience fly-like symptoms, you should call your physician and stay away from work or school.

The following generic flu information was compiled by Dan Vergano of USA Today, with the help of flu experts and public health officials in the US:

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Misery, basically. Flu comes on suddenly, accompanied by fever and chills, coughing, sore throats, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches. Nausea and diarrhea are more common in children. A bad cold makes daily life rotten, but a bad flu makes it really miserable.

Q: Why is it so bad this year?

A: Flu is unpredictable, and its year-to-year spread depends on the strain of the virus, how well vaccinations match the bug (and how many people get vaccinated) and chance. Cases only began to pick up [in the US] in the last two weeks, suggesting the peak of the season may be upon us now, a bit early.

The flu season started about four to five weeks early this year, says Tom Skinner of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. We are on the fifth week right now of the typical 12-week winter flu season.

Q: Who is most at risk?

A: Most cases of the flu are mild and resolve within two weeks. The elderly are the most likely to die from flu cases that cause severe complications, such as pneumonia. Flu can also trigger severe asthma attacks and worsen chronic heart disease. Even healthy teenagers and young adults can die from complications of the flu, although young children and people with compromised immune systems face a much higher risk. Kids or teens receiving long-term aspirin therapy for blood vessel inflammation also are at higher risk of complications, such as Reye’s syndrome, which causes swelling of the brain and liver, from the flu.

Q: What about prevention? What can I do to not get the flu in the first place?

A: Get the flu vaccine. Wash your hands often, or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser, and keep them away from your face. Flu bugs can live for two to eight hours on surfaces after someone coughs them out. Don’t go back to work until 24 hours after your fever breaks to prevent infecting other people.

Q: Can I get the flu even after I get the shot?

A: Yes. The CDC estimates the flu vaccine is about 60% effective, on average. Even if it isn’t perfect, and we wish it was a lot better, it is a lot better than taking your chances and getting sick, doctors say. Moreover, enough people getting even an imperfect vaccine can break the back of an outbreak by limiting its odds of spreading. And people who have been vaccinated typically have weaker bouts with the flu, even if they do get sick.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you pick up a cough or a sore throat even though you have been vaccinated, it doesn’t mean the vaccination failed. There are plenty of other bugs, such as whooping cough, out there that might be making you sick, instead of influenza.

Q. Why don’t we have a better flu shot?

A. Because the current flu vaccine is still made with 1950s-era technology, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

The currently available flu vaccines stimulate immunity by including proteins found on the outer coating of the influenza virus. But these proteins change from season to season, requiring scientists to update the vaccine each year. A better vaccine would stimulate immunity with components of the virus that don’t change, providing protection for a decade or more, says William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Early, phase 1 trials of a universal flu vaccine are already underway, Schaffner says.

Q: If I get the symptoms, at what point do I see the doctor?

A: In most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, according to the FDA. But if things get bad, do go see a physician. The elderly, young children and people with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable, so they should see a doctor if they have flu symptoms.