There is still time to get your flu shot. The influenza season has begun, but it has not yet spread this far north.

Sheila Hesse, manager of the Sandstone Health Care Center, said in a phone interview Monday, “Fortunately, it hasn’t hit yet.” She said that was the case for both residents and staff.

Leah Jarvis of Essentia Health-Sandstone said in a phone call Tuesday that they had not seen much flu yet either.

Gateway Family Health Clinics Administrator Eric Nielsen said via email, they have only treated two confirmed cases of flu since August.

Results are considered preliminary, but in Minnesota only 23 have been hospitalized with the flu this fall with strains of influenza A or B, and about half of those have been people age 65 and older, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. There have only been eight school outbreaks so far this season in the state, and no outbreaks have been reported in long term care facilities thus far. The young and the elderly, as well as those with compromised immune systems, are the hardest hit by flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns it is too early to tell what viruses will predominate or how severe the season will be.

Preventing flu

According to the CDC, vaccination is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications. The vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months old and older. Most flu vaccines protect against four different flu viruses. One cannot get the flu from the vaccine, though there might be a mild fever or discomfort afterward.

Getting vaccinated for the flu protects you from getting sick and prevents you from passing on the virus to others. Practicing good hygiene also helps prevent the flu.

Hesse recommended that individuals can protect the elderly by washing their hands before and after visits and to refrain from visiting if one is experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms.

Flu symptoms

Flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus, and it targets the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms can come on suddenly and can become severe enough to cause death. Usually symptoms can make you stop daily activity for a while, but they generally do not lead to hospitalization.

It is important to differentiate the flu from a stomach virus or a cold. Flu does not cause gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, nausea or diarrhea. Also, flu generally does not give one a stuffy or runny nose like a cold. While one can continue to function normally with a cold, that is not the case with flu.

Flu shots available

Gateway Family Health Clinics Administrator Eric Nielsen said via email, “We do have set flu shot days when patients can schedule a flu shot for a specific time, but patients can also get a flu shot at any of our three clinics during office hours through our walk-in schedule.”

Nielsen confirmed that a patient can come in for a flu shot during regular clinic hours and have no office visit charges. It is recommended to call and schedule an appointment for the flu shot to ensure there is vaccine available. There have been some difficulties maintaining the supply of the high dose flu shot recommended for ages 65 and older, but Nielsen said they have sufficient stock now.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies. Brooke Schwasinger, pharmacist at Thrifty White in Sandstone, said in phone conversations that they are offering a quadrivalent vaccine that works against four different flu viruses, two A and two B strands. They also have the more potent, high-dose version.

Schwasinger said no appointments are needed to get a flu shot, but to keep in mind that Mondays, Fridays and lunchtime are busiest. Minors age 6 and up need a parent or guardian to sign permission.

In general, most insurances cover flu shots, as well as Medicaid and Medicare. Copays do apply. Those without insurance can pay for a flu shot.   

Find out more

Learn more about flu and track its spread on the Minnesota Department of Health website, https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/flu/index.html.

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