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The Calvert County Health Department is hosting two flu clinics at local high schools in October.

The first community flu clinic will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at Huntingtown High School, said Sharon Nazarek, assistant director of nursing at the health department.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, a second flu clinic will be from 4 to 7 p.m. at Patuxent High School, she said.

At each flu clinic, flu mist, which is a nasal spray, and an injectable vaccine will be available for $20, cash or check only, Nazarek said. All vaccines are on a first come, first serve basis, she said. Medicare Part B is accepted.

Nazarek said the health department has received grant money from the state to give free vaccines to public and private school children in grades pre-K through fifth grade, so if a child missed their school vaccine date, they will be able to receive the vaccine for free at one of the community clinics.

Nazarek said there are three virus strains in this year’s vaccine. The first “a” strain of the virus contains the H1N1 virus, which was also included in last year’s vaccine, she said. The second “a” strain of the virus is the H3N2 virus, she said. A “b” strain of the virus is also in the vaccine, she said.

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness, Nazarek said, that can cause “anywhere from a mild to severe illness” and, at times, can lead to death.

“Older people and young children and people who have certain health conditions are at high risk for flu complications, and the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every single year,” Nazarek said.

Flu symptoms “usually come on pretty sudden,” Nazarek said, and include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Pneumonia can also be a result from flu complications, she said.

Health department Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky said generally, influenza outbreaks start occurring in December or January, but in some instances it can happen as early as October or November. He said about 20 percent of the country’s population gets sick from the flu every year, and of those, hundreds of thousands get sick enough that they need to be hospitalized. An average of 36,000 people in the country die from complications from the flu, he said.

In February, three Lusby residents died from complications from the flu. Polsky said two of those three people did not receive a flu vaccine. He said had everyone in the community been vaccinated, it would have been less likely for the flu to infect those three people.

“I think that underlies the importance for everybody to get vaccinated, because an otherwise healthy person … could pass the flu onto a family member or coworker whose immune system isn’t as strong,” Polsky said.

Some people choose not to get the flu vaccine because it doesn’t work. Polsky said on an average year, the flu vaccine is about 80 percent effective. He said this is one of the main reasons he recommends everyone get vaccinated, because in about one in five people, the vaccine won’t work as well because their immune system does not respond as well.

“The reason we recommend it, especially for people who are around the elderly, is that when people get into their 60s and 70s, although the vaccine works, the effectiveness rate goes down even further,” he said. “Having their grandchildren and children vaccinated makes it less likely for them to get exposed to the virus in case the vaccine doesn’t protect them.”

Polsky recommended everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine. He said it is “particularly important” for pregnant women to receive the vaccine while they are pregnant because it helps protect the baby after the baby is born.

Polsky said parents should not be afraid to have their children vaccinated for fear of autism. He said several years ago, there were “unfounded rumors” that vaccines could cause autism, but the research was only based on one study and the researcher later admitted to falsifying data.

The chances of serious side effects or allergic reactions from the flu vaccine are “about one in a million,” Polsky said, and the chances of dying from the flu is about one in more than 800,000. In contrast, Polsky said about a quarter of a million people in the country end up in the hospital from serious health side effects from the flu.

Many people do end up with minor side effects from the vaccine, which may include feeling a little fatigued or congested. Polsky said those symptoms are “very minor” and usually last less than 24 hours.

“The chances of benefiting from the vaccine are dramatically higher than the risks of having serious side effects from the vaccine,” he said. “The benefits of the vaccine … not only benefit the person that gets the vaccine, but since they won’t spread it to somebody else, it keeps their family members and coworkers safe.”

If someone is sick with the flu, Nazarek said people need to stay home so the illness is not passed on to others at work or school. To help prevent the spread of the flu, Nazarek said people need to wash their hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. She said people should cough or sneeze into their sleeve rather than their hands because it helps stop the spread of the flu.

For more information about the clinics, call the flu hotline at 410-535-5400, ext. 349, or go to www.calverthealth.org.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com