With the new flu season about to get under way, health officials are reminding people to get a flu shot.
Walgreens Pharmacies across Arizona rolled out the flu vaccine for the 2011-2012 season on Aug. 8, about two weeks earlier than last year, said Jim Cohn, spokesman for Walgreens' corporate office.
The early arrival of the vaccine was possible because the components for this year's shot are similar to last year, making a smooth transition for manufacturers, Cohn said.
Influenza is a respiratory disease that can be marked by a cough, body aches, fatigue and high fever.
The flu can change from year to year. Using historical data and examining the types of flu that are circulating, a new vaccine is created to target three different types of the disease that are expected to be most common. Like last year, the vaccine this year will cover H1N1, which caused numerous worldwide illnesses and deaths in 2009. No separate shot is needed.
It's not too early to get vaccinated, said Dr. Karen Lewis, director of the Arizona Immunization Program.
"We know the vaccines last a long time, up to a year or more. We know it takes a lot of time to get the whole population immunized," Lewis said. "When influenza comes, it usually surges for two to three months."
Historically, the flu peaks in Arizona from November through February.
But just last month, a previously healthy Maricopa County child died after contracting the flu, health officials said.
The child was between 5 and 18 years old. No other details are being released because of confidentiality laws.
In total, there have been five recorded pediatric deaths in Arizona attributed to complications due to the flu in the last year, said state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Laura Oxley. At least one other pediatric influenza death during the 2010-2011 flu season - which ends Oct. 1 - was also a previously healthy child.
There are different types of the vaccine available, Lewis said. For older adults - ages 65 and older - there is a high-dose version, which originated last year. For healthy people who don't have asthma, there is a nasal spray. And for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, there is the traditional shot.
There have been 9,835 lab-confirmed cases of influenza since Sept. 26, 2010, when the current flu season began. Of those, 50 percent of the cases were recorded in children 18 and younger.
That's likely to be a very small number compared to the total number of people who got the flu in the last year since many do not visit a doctor.
For more information, see stopthespreadaz.org.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune