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Inflluenza clinics arrive with fall

Looking for a shot in the arm?

There soon will be ample opportunities to get one. With summer in the rearview and the official arrival of autumn this weekend, influenza season can’t be far behind. Flu clinics across Crow Wing County will provide additional options for vaccinations before the season hits in earnest in February when winter drives people together indoors.

Lynn Jaycox, Crow Wing County public health emergency preparedness coordinator, said while the swine flu is not covered in the influenza vaccine this season, it’s still important to get.

For the 2011-2012 flu season Minnesota statistics, 552 people were hospitalized with confirmed flu cases and 33 deaths were reported. There were 41 influenza outbreaks. In the 2010-2011 season, 972 people hospitalized and 70 deaths.

Influenza should not be confused with a stomach virus. Instead it is a contagious respiratory disease that attacks the nose, throat and lungs with a mild to severe illness that, in some cases, may lead to death. Symptoms include a fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, body aches and stuffed-up nose. Influenza is different from the common cold as the Department of Health notes people with the cold, which typically stays in the head, will usually be able to keep up normal activities while a person with influenza will often be too sick to keep up with their routine.

People with the greatest risk of a severe influenza illness are children younger than 5 years, those 65 and older, pregnant women and people with chronic health issues like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or weakened immune systems or neurological conditions.

This year swine flu made headlines. It is not covered in the regular flu vaccine. The Minnesota Department of Health reported pigs are commonly infected with swine flu, hence the name, and that the spread from pigs to people and people to pigs is rare.

So far there were eight confirmed cases of swine flu in the state with two different viruses. Five cases were traced to the Minnesota State Fair and the others occurred with people who had hogs on their farms. Nationwide, there was one death from swine flu with an individual who had underlying health problems with asthma and diabetes.

Jaycox said for the Sept. 27 flu clinic in Brainerd, Crow Wing County will also be using the vaccination session as a pandemic exercise to look at the county’s preparedness for communications, clinic flow and as a test to the incident command structure. It’s a test against a time when mass distributions could be needed for an outbreak.

Some may avoid the shot fearing it will give them the flu. The Minnesota Department of Health reported some people may get mild flu-like symptoms for a short time but that is the body responding to the vaccine and not the actual flu. Or a person may have been infected before getting the vaccine.

“I’ve gotten the flu shot every year and been a nurse for 30 years and I haven’t gotten sick,” said Stephanie Koubas, public health nurse with Crow Wing County Community Services. “To me it’s the idea you have the opportunity to protect yourself, why not do it.”

In addition, Koubas said getting the vaccine is a way to prevent transmission of the virus to babies, aging parents or those with other health concerns from cancer to diabetes, heart disease to asthma, that may make them more susceptible to a serious bout with the flu.

Ways to reduce the risk of catching influenza or other viruses are often repeated and relatively simple. They include washing hands frequently or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Those who are already symptomatic, may reduce the spread of the virus by covering their cough.

Some children, depending on their age and if they got the flu vaccine in the past year, may need two doses. While vaccine shortages have plagued previous seasons, the Crow Wing County health division reports there are no shortages this year.

Koubas compared getting the vaccine to putting on a seat belt in a car. “It’s a way to stay healthy,” she said.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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