Patients At Risk For Flu Complications Urged To Take Precautions

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With some states now holding lotteries for flu shots, 82-year-old Maxine Horton was relieved to finally get the vaccine from her Payson doctor.

"We got here at 7:30 a.m. and there was a long line," Horton said. "We waited until it thinned out, but I wanted the shot -- I'm getting kind of old."

National shortages of the flu vaccine have caused widespread concern in patients like Horton who suffer from medical conditions that could turn fatal if complicated by the influenza virus.

Dr. Judith Hunt of Banner Health Center in Payson said they received a 500-dose flu vaccine shipment for their patients.

"We were surprised the shipment came in," Hunt said. "We ordered it back in February.

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Maxine Horton, 82, receives her flu shot from clinic administrator Shannon Hounshell at Banner Health Center Monday.

"We called our chronically-ill and at-risk patients and started administering it right away. These are patients with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, asthma, cancer -- people who, if they got the flu, it could kill them."

Hunt said they also care for a large number of special needs children with lung and heart defects. "We made sure the children were the first to get the vaccine."

It didn't take long for the 500 doses of vaccine to get distributed to at-risk patients. By 8:30 a.m. Monday, there were only a few dozen left -- all earmarked for patients who need them the most.

"People were standing in line this morning," Clinic Administrator Shannon Hounshell said. "When we were out, I had to go out there to tell them. I probably sent away 50 to 100 people."

Hunt said it's a hard thing to be placed in a position where a doctor needs to decide who is more at risk than another patient.

"We know there are patients from our office who are at risk and still really need the shot -- but we just don't have enough," Hunt said. "It's important that people talk with their doctors if they are at risk for complications with the flu. I can't stress that enough. If they are at risk, and haven't received a flu shot yet, they need to contact their doctor and keep them informed."

Hunt also hopes people will keep in mind that a flu shot only works against the influenza virus.

"People sometimes get confused because they get a fever and they wonder, ‘Is this the flu? or is my flu shot not working?'"

One way to track which states have confirmed cases of the influenza virus is on the Internet at www.flustar.com.

Alternatives

For those who have not been able to get a flu shot this year, Hunt makes the following recommendations:

"The first thing is, pray that we get more in the country."

Second, there are anti-virals available. These are medicines you can take after you are exposed to the flu virus. They are prescription medications you get from your local doctor. The anti-viral pills have very few side effects, so they're pretty safe medicines, she said.

Third, there is a nasal spray that's a flu vaccine. They are appropriate for people under the age of 50. That's also something people can ask their doctor about.

Fourth, if you are at risk, and haven't received a flu shot yet, contact your doctor.

Last, keep your hands clean and cover you mouth when you cough. Just practice basic good hygiene.

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