Arm yourself against the flu
WORTHINGTON -- Whether it is the cooler weather or the fact that the calendar page has been flipped to October, local clinics and pharmacies are seeing an uptick in the number of people eager to get their flu shot.
Most local entities received their vaccine in early September, and there is plenty of vaccine available to treat everyone. This year's vaccine covers the same strains -- including to H1N1 -- as last year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu shot should be given to all people ages six months and older. Those most susceptible to the flu include young children, people ages 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease or a weakened immune system.
Again this year, District 518 will offer the flu vaccine to all students. Licensed School Nurse Wendy Donkersloot said letters went home with elementary students, and will be mailed to the families of middle and high school students regarding in-school clinics. The forms are due back to the appropriate school health office on Oct. 12.
Sponsored by the Worthington Area Healthcare Foundation, Donkersloot said flu mist and flu shots will be given Oct. 25 at Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle and High schools, and Oct. 26 at the Alternative Learning Center, St. Mary's and Worthington Christian School.
Approximately 1,505 flu vaccinations were performed during last year's District 518 clinics and Donkersloot anticipates even more to take advantage of the offer this year. Insurance will be billed for those students who have coverage, and will be provided at no cost to those who don't have insurance. Any costs over and above insurance coverage will also be taken care of.
"It's just a very positive program, it's a win-win for all," she said. "The kids stay in school, they stay healthy, the teachers stay healthy and the parents stay healthy. If the kids are healthy, they're in school and if they're in school they're learning and their test scores go up."
While there have been some cases already this school year of stomach virus, common colds and allergies, Donkersloot said there have not yet been any reports of influenza in the Worthington schools.
"I encourage parents to get their younger children vaccinated too," she added. "We want the entire family to stay healthy. We're hoping for another mild winter -- that always helps."
Nobles County Community Health Services Public Health Nurse Rachel Bengtson said their office has both the flu mist and flu vaccine available to individuals who are underinsured or don't have health insurance. They can receive the vaccine at a reduced rate, but must make an appointment in advance. She said the service is offered Monday through Thursday.
The flu shot will provide immunity for an individual for the duration of the flu season.
"Last year it was a pretty mild year," Bengtson said. "It's hard to tell what it's going to be like this year. I really recommend that everybody ages six months and older get their flu shot."
Bengtson said children up to 8 years of age who have not had a flu shot since 2010 should get two doses, with the second dose to follow one month after the first dose.
"It's extra protection," she said. "Then they won't need to get another flu shot the year after."
At Avera Worthington Specialty Clinic, registered nurse Barb Bakalyar said they will offer several flu clinics this month, in addition to accepting walk-ins. Clinics are planned from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and Oct. 25; and from 9 to 11:30 a.m., Oct. 20. Children are required to have an appointment in advance with the pediatrics department.
"We would encourage anybody and everybody to get the flu shot," Bakalyar said. "In the long run it's going to save you from being out of work in case you have a child that gets ill. (The flu shot) is a lot cheaper than getting the flu."
Most local pharmacies are also offering the flu vaccine, with both Sterling Drug and GuidePoint downtown accepting walk-ins during business hours.
Bryan Hagen, Sterling Drug pharmacist, said their business has been busy the last couple of days with requests for the vaccine. People are required to complete a form, which takes about 10 minutes, in order to get the shot.
"In Minnesota, we can vaccinate down to 10-year-olds at the pharmacies, but I would recommend all ages (get vaccinated)," Hagen said.
Both Sterling Drug and GuidePoint bill insurance for customers wanting the vaccine.
There is no charge for Medicare-eligible clients.
At GuidePoint, pharmacist Mike Ahlers said their business is also providing flu vaccination clinics at local businesses, reaching larger numbers of employees at shift changes.
"It works out really well," Ahlers said. "It keeps the employee healthy and it's convenient because we come right to the business and do that for no additional charge. We do early in the morning or as late as 10 at night."
While the flu shot seems to be a more popular choice than the flu mist, both take a couple of weeks to start working to protect the body against the influenza. The mist is a live vaccine, whereas the shot is a killed vaccine.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.