PUBLISHED: 4:35 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Vaccines are still an option, despite late date
Barbara Klein has made hand washing a habit.

"It's something I've always been taught, to wash your hands after handling something," she said. "I always do it, even after grocery shopping ... I don't have a fetish about it. I do believe if you overclean, your body doesn't build up resistance to germs. You need a good middle ground."

Klein, a retired school paraprofessional, said it's one way she's avoided getting the flu this year and last year.

She hasn't gotten a flu shot, but registered nurse Patricia Van De Burg said it's not too late to get vaccinated.

Dozens of new positive rapid influenza reports were recently received by the Section of Epidemiology in Alaska. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, and continues to protect against the disease for about one year.

"Although influenza activity has been low so far this year, we have seen a great increase in reported cases over the past week," said Dr. Jay Butler, public health director.

"Sometimes the flu season just starts a little late ? we are not out of the woods, yet. There could still be a lot of flu in Alaska over the next two to three months, and it is not too late to get a flu shot."

It is recommended that individuals who normally receive influenza vaccine but who may have deferred on behalf of those at highest risk should now request the vaccine while supplies last. Health-care workers and those who live with or care for more vulnerable people, such as infants, the elderly, or people with chronic diseases, should also be vaccinated to decrease the chance of transmitting influenza.

Vaccine availability may vary by location around the state. Anyone seeking a flu shot should check with their local health provider or public health center about vaccine availability in their area.

For additional information on influenza go online to or

Influenza can cause serious complications and even death in people over 65 or younger than 6, those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, or pregnant women.

"If you have a sore throat, your immune system is overtaxed. If it's fighting the flu, let's say you start getting a cough with chest congestion and you just can't fight this bug. Well, other bugs start growing, because your immune system is compromised. You can get bacterial or viral pneumonia," Van De Burg said.

"In young children, the flu can mimic other illnesses. It can progress in young children quite fast. You can bring (a child) into the emergency room and be told it's just the flu, but the next day it can be pneumonia."

Symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and a cough that lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The virus is spread when ill people cough or sneeze, contaminating others directly or leaving germs on surfaces.

"Then you touch that surface and touch your mouth or eyes or nose without thinking, and you get it," she said. "That's why we emphasize hand washing."

She said other good prevention methods are getting plenty of sleep, eating healthful food and staying away from others who are ill.