2008-10-24 / Community

DOH: Flu Shots A Must For Those At Risk

Influenza season is arriving, and now is the time to arm yourself and your family - by getting vaccinated. Following the lead of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Department is now recommending vaccination for all children between 6 months and 18-years-of-age.

CDC changed the recommendation this year in response to research showing that children often spread influenza to family members and others. In New York City, the number of eligible kids will grow by more than a million compared to last year, when the vaccine was recommended by the Department of Health only for those young New Yoe\rkers between the age of six months and those who are five-yearsof age.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that kills thousands of New Yorkers every year. Besides sparing people days or weeks of misery, the vaccine can prevent unnecessary school absences, doctor visits and hospitalizations. Free flu shots are now available at all of the Health Department's immunization clinics.

"Get vaccinated before influenza takes its toll on you or your loved ones," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. "Young children and older adults are at higher risk of hospitalization if they get sick. So don't take the risk, call your doctor or 311 today."

Influenza and pneumonia (a potential complication) together represent the third leading cause of death in New York City, claiming more than 2,500 lives every year. Only heart disease and cancer take greater tolls.

Anyone can get influenza, but some groups are at especially high risk of complications

and death:

People 65 and older have the highest risk. More than 2,000 older New Yorkers died of influenza and pneumonia in 2006, and more than 13,000 were hospitalized.

Infants and children are also at high risk of complications. In 2006, more than 4,000 children up to age 10 were hospitalized due to influenza and pneumonia; 10 children under 14 died.

"Parents need to know that children under 9 need to receive two doses if they're being vaccinated against influenza for the first time," said Dr. Jane R. Zucker, Assistant Commissioner for Immunization for the city Department of Health. "This is the best way to protect kids so make sure to get to the doctor early." Last year, only 18 percent of children aged 6 months up to 5 years were fully protected.

Who should get a flu shot?

Everyone who wants to reduce the risk of influenza should get vaccinated this year.

It is especially important that the following groups get vaccinated either by a city center or through a private medical practicioner:

Children between 6 months and 18-years-of-age; Adults 50 and older - especially those over 65; Pregnant women; People with chronic health conditions; People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

Health-care workers ;

Anyone in close daily contact with children under 5 - especially infants younger than 6 months; and

Anyone in close daily contact with people who are over 50 or living with chronic health conditions.

Where to get a shot

Your regular health care provider should have a good supply of flu vaccine, so call and set up an appointment today.

People ages 65 and older and those between the ages of 2 and 64 with chronic medical conditions should ask their doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine.

Flu shots are available at no cost at Health Department clinics in each borough. No appointment is necessary. Any New Yorker can call 311 for clinic locations and other sites where flu vaccine is being offered, or use the flu clinic locator online at www.nyc.gov/health/flu.

New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation also offers free and low cost flu shots and FluMist at public hospitals throughout the city. For information, visit www.nyc.gov/html/hhc/html/services/flu shots.shtml.

Scared of needles? There's an alternative.

FluMist is a vaccine spray for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49. FluMist is not recommended for pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and those with long-term health problems.

Your doctor can tell you whether FluMist is right for you.

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