N.D. health officials encourage flu shots

BISMARCK—State health officials are encouraging North Dakotans to get an influenza vaccination this fall, saying there are more than enough doses available.

The North Dakota Department of Health and Custer Health in Mandan had a news conference Monday morning to discuss the importance of receiving the vaccine.

Influenza is unpredictable, so health officials can’t determine what’s going to happen this year, said Michelle Feist, influenza surveillance coordinator. So far, one case of influenza has been reported in the state.

The vaccine covers two strains of influenza A, including H1N1, and one strain of influenza B, said Molly Sander, immunization program manager. The vaccine is available via injection or nasal mist.

Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by a virus spread through coughing, sneezing and talking, Feist said. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, aches and extreme fatigue.

The Health Department encourages everyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated.

However, it’s especially important for children 6 months to 4 years, adults 50 and older, long-term care residents, pregnant women, people with high-risk medical conditions, American Indians and obese people to be vaccinated, Sander said.

People who could spread the disease to those at high risk – such as health care workers and parents of infants younger than 6 months – also should be vaccinated, she said.

Custer Health Administrator Keith Johnson said influenza is not the same as the stomach flu.

Each year, more than 400 North Dakotans die as a result of complications from influenza and pneumonia, and hundreds more are hospitalized, Johnson said. The state’s health partners are ready to administer vaccines, he said.

“It’s a small investment of your time for a potential really big payback,” he said.

Free vaccines available

The North Dakota Department of Health has begun supplying tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines to health care providers at no cost for any adolescent or adult in need of vaccination, according to a news release.

The vaccines will be provided for free for a limited time to local public health units and private health care providers enrolled in the department’s Immunization Program. Health care providers may charge a small fee to administer the vaccine.

A booster dose of tetanus and diphtheria vaccine is recommended at least every 10 years, the department said. For people younger than 65, one of the booster doses should be Tdap, which also protects against pertussis (whooping cough), to help ensure they don’t pass whooping cough to infants or get the disease themselves. In addition, a dose of Tdap is recommended for adolescents at ages 11 or 12 and is required for all North Dakota adolescents attending middle school.

 

Many states are experiencing outbreaks of pertussis, the department said. North Dakota experienced an outbreak in 2004, when 757 cases occurred. So far in 2010, 19 cases of pertussis have been reported in North Dakota.

Most adolescents and adults in North Dakota are not protected against pertussis, said Molly Sander, Immunization Program manager. About 48 percent of North Dakota adolescents received a dose of Tdap, and even fewer adults are adequately vaccinated with Tdap, she said.

People interested in being vaccinated or wondering if they are up-to-date on their vaccinations should contact their local public health unit or health care provider.

For more information, contact Sander at 701-328-2378.