Clinic urges Mainers to get their flu shots

ELLSWORTH — Flu shots can prevent illness and lost work hours and save lives.

The staff of the Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic Jan. 8 issued a statement urging people to get their flu shots.

Last flu season was unusually severe in Maine, with 1,750 people hospitalized and 82 deaths. The people most likely to die from influenza are the very young, the old and those with pre-existing medical issues, especially lung problems, diabetes, immune deficiency and those who are pregnant, according to the clinic.

“But, the risk to an individual can be somewhat unpredictable,” according to the press release. “For example, during the influenza pandemic of 1918, it was young people between 20 and 40 who were most at risk of dying.”

Clinic staff dispensed with some common misconceptions about flu shots.

The flu shot does not give people the flu. The vaccine takes about two weeks to produce immunity. If people develop symptoms soon after receiving the flu shot, it is likely they were infected before getting the shot or soon after, before they developed immunity.

Severe reactions to the flu shot do happen, but are extremely rare. Most people are likely to suffer nothing worse than a sore arm for a day or two.

Because the makeup of the flu virus changes, each year the World Health Organization identifies the most likely flu strains to circulate in the following flu season and manufacturers of flu vaccines target these strains. In years when there is a good match between flu vaccines and circulating flu viruses, vaccination halves your risk of getting flu. And, even when the World Health Organization does not get it perfectly right, vaccination will reduce your risk of getting severe flu.

For those who have never had a flu shot or caught the flu, “You have been lucky. But, your luck is unlikely to last forever,” according to staff at the free clinic.

“Influenza is extremely infectious. Just touching a shopping cart or doorknob that a sick person has touched can transfer the virus.”

Medicare and many health insurance plans cover the cost of flu vaccination.

The Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic offers free vaccination to those patients to whom it provides primary care.

Most local pharmacies offer flu vaccination for about $40.

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