Health officials hope to get the word out about flu vaccines. They also hope they have enough vaccine.
Although flu season is still months off, public health officials throughout the state are gearing up now for an annual drive to immunize the elderly and chronically ill against influenza viruses.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has scheduled a series of clinics between Oct. 17 and Nov. 10 to provide flu immunizations, at a cost of $8 per shot.
Health officials consider the immunization shot particularly beneficial for those considered at high risk of developing flu-related complications -- people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and adults and children with chronic health problems
The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 20 percent of the population will be infected with a flu virus this winter. Most will recover in three to 10 days.
"Getting a flu shot is a good preventive action people can take during the winter to keep healthy," said Dr. Steven Potsic, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Division of Health.
The flu is characterized by the abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, sore throat and cough that lasts several days. Secondary infections, such as bacterial or viral pneumonia, can be fatal.
The immunization formula is changed each year in anticipation of which of various flu viruses experts believe will be the most prevalent in a given year.
This year's shot protects against A/Texas, A/Shangdong and B/Panama influenza viruses.
Elaine Houston, a Douglas County Health Department nurse. said in recent years the flu shot has become increasingly popular not just with the targeted at-risk population but with the general public -- low-risk individuals who are simply trying to avoid the cough, fever, aches and pains of the flu.
"I think a lot of people are realizing that the vaccine really helps them," Houston said.
Houston said more and more businesses in Lawrence are providing the vaccination for their employees because it keeps the workers healthy and at work -- instead of home with the flu.
Last year the health department ran out of vaccine Nov. 2 after providing about 4,800 shots. By then some national drug manufacturers had exhausted their supplies of flu vaccine, and some local physicians also were running low or had run out.
"Each year we order a little bit more vaccine than the year before," Houston said.
Whether this year's supply will last depends on demand, which is often linked to the severity of the annual flu outbreak that usually starts in mid-December and stretches into April, Houston said.
This year is expected to be a mild flu season.
"Nobody knows until it hits," Houston said. "Last year it hit early and they weren't predicting that. People need to protect themselves."