The last time Louise Hannings had the flu, the symptoms lasted for a solid week.
She recalled having a fever and difficulty breathing.
“It was a really bad siege,” she said of the virus.
Now, the 77-year-old Ocean City resident gets a flu shot every year. “And touch wood, I’m doing very well,” Hannings said.
Vaccine manufacturers have produced an estimated 135 million to 139 million doses of influenza vaccine for use in the United States this flu season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health care officials say getting the shot is the best way to avoid catching the flu.
“You don’t want to catch the flu, and you don’t want to spread the flu,” said Kevin Thomas, Cape May County’s health officer. Symptoms indicative of the flu include fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue.
This season’s vaccines include the traditional vaccine designed to protect against three different flu viruses and another that protects against four different flu viruses.
Cape May County will likely administer 5,000 flu shots this year at clinics held throughout the county, while Atlantic County could give as many as 3,000 and Cumberland County about 2,000.
At a recent drive-through clinic, for instance, 2,174 shots were given, Thomas said.
The number of shots given out by Cape May County was once as high as 7,000, but Thomas said the number has dropped because of the availability of the vaccines at stores and pharmacies.
Thomas said whatever the location, the importance of getting the flu shot cannot be overestimated.
“If you’ve ever had the flu, you’re pretty much knocked out for as much as two weeks,” he said.
Bridget Farrell, director of infection prevention at Cape Regional Medical Center, said she once had the flu. “I was sick in bed for five days and not well for another three or four after that,” she said.
Farrell said last year was a moderately severe flu season, though the hospital had few admissions for the illness. None have been reported so far this flu season.
This year, the CDC has said that the flu season, as in most years, is unpredictable.
“Although epidemics of flu happen every year, the timing, severity and length of the season varies from one year to another,” the CDC said.
Flu season runs from October to sometimes as late as May, with the peak usually arriving in January or February.
Megan Sheppard, acting health officer for Cumberland County, said that county’s flu clinics have seen a steady turnout, a mix of young and old.
She said prevention is important to stopping complications that can come with the onset of the flu.
The county has scheduled about a dozen flu clinics and also takes the vaccine to events such as Millville’s Community Day, where 75 doses were given.
The shots are free in Cumberland County to residents.
The availability of the shots in the region, Sheppard said, means “there’s really not a reason to get the vaccine.”
Patricia Diamond, public health officer for Atlantic County, said last year the area saw a harsh flu season with an increase in cases in December and January.
“It was higher than we experienced in previous years,” she said. “But there is no predicting it. Influenza changes every year in some fashion.”
Diamond said the vaccines are manufactured based on what strains are likely to present themselves each year.
The county runs flu clinics as late as November and hands out between 2,000 and 3,000 doses annually.
Diamond and Farrell also urged people to cover their mouths when they cough and regularly wash their hands.
The differences between a cold and the flu, she said, start with the arrival of the virus.
Colds come slowly, a gradual onset, while the flu can come on quickly.
“You can go to work and suddenly you’re achy, have a headache, chills,” she said. “And the flu can linger.”
Diamond urges people to get the vaccine not only to protect themselves, but to protect others who might be susceptible, such as infants.
On Tuesday, Cape May County held a flu shot clinic at the Ocean City Senior Center.
The two-hour event drew dozens.
Kim Cervantes, epidemiologist with the county, said the doses were given out for free, while a high-dose vaccine for the more vulnerable was charged to each person’s insurance.
Among those stopping to get the shot was Gene Doto, of Woodbine.
The 98-year-old, a month shy of his 99th birthday, said he gets the shot every year. On Tuesday, he was wearing an “I had my flu shot today!” sticker.
Why does he go every year?
“I don’t know — because they say I need it,” Doto joked.
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