Health professionals are reminding people that it’s time for an annual flu shot.

“Usually about the first of September we start this discussion with patients,” said Dr. Alan Scharrer, a family physician with the Saint Luke’s Health System in Blue Springs.

Flu shots are widely available and covered by almost all insurance. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot before the end of October.

Also, good hand-washing makes a big difference.

Most flu shots available these days are targeted at two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. It takes up to a month for a flu shot to fully take effect, Scharrer said, as the body builds up antibodies in response. The flu season typically peaks in January and February, so officials stress getting vaccinated now.

Scharrer points out the shot itself will not make you sick, though some people, especially those who have never had a flu shot, will experience perhaps 24 hours of aches, a dry cough and fever.

“That’s the body basically mimicking an immune response to flu” and that’s good, he said.

Getting a shot and preventing the flu for yourself also means you won’t spread it and that “cuts down on the rate of other people getting infected,” said Tammy Landrum, Jackson County Health Department nurse manager.

“That piece is real, real important,” Scharrer said.

Scharrer also underlined the importance of “just simple, smart hygiene.” That means thorough hand-washing and carrying wipes or alcohol-based gel sanitizing agents. Lots of places – think of touch screens and the TV remote in a hotel room – can harbor germs.

Landrum also mentioned hand-washing “because it’s the single most important way to prevent infection.”

A good 20 seconds of scrubbing – about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – is needed. Get fingernails and in between fingers, too.

“At least to the wrist down, you want to get a good washing.” Landrum said.

The county Health Department office at 313 S. Liberty St. in Independence has flu shots from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for those who want to drop by. The department takes most insurance, including public insurance. For those without insurance, there’s a $10 administrative fee.

Scharrer also cautioned against thinking about skating by without a shot with the thought of taking Tamiflu if you actually get sick. He points out that it’s only good for type A flu, it only blunts the symptoms for about a day and it’s only recommended for those with underlying conditions that could be complicated by the flu.


Simple steps

In addition to its overall recommendation for everyone to get a flu shot, the CDC especially stresses flu shots for those in high-risk groups: children under 5, adults over 50, the extremely obese (those with a body-mass index of 40 or high), those with compromised immune systems, women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season, Native Americans, those in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, and caregivers and those in contact with people at risk. The CDC also includes as at risk those people with chronic pulmonary disorders including asthma, cardiovascular disorders other than isolated hypertension, and chronic metabolic, renal, hepatic, neurologic or hematologic disorders.

In addition to hand-washing, the CDC says to avoid close contact with those who are sick, to limit contact with others if you are sick, and to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

Also, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – and throw the tissue away. Wipe down and disinfect surfaces and objects that might have germs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.