This past week, the Arkansas Department of Health confirmed this fall's first case of seasonal influenza. Because the flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease, it won't be long before we begin to see more cases. It is important that you protect yourself early and help stop the advance of the virus. You can do this by getting an annual flu vaccine. Believe me, I am not a fan of needles, but I've been getting my annual flu shot, and will again this year too.
Each year, the flu is responsible for the deaths of an average of 36,000 Americans. Many more are hospitalized with complications that can include ear and sinus infections, bacterial pneumonia and dehydration. The flu also can worsen chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Maintaining proper hygiene, washing your hands often and staying home when you're sick can help stop the virus' spread. However, in the end, the flu vaccine provides the best defense against this serious illness. This year, only one dose of the vaccine is necessary for most people.
Two years ago, my comprehensive health-care initiative included funding to provide free vaccinations for Arkansas school children and adults. School vaccinations have already begun and will continue until the holiday break in December. In young and healthy recipients, the vaccine is highly effective at preventing illness. Vaccinating children not only helps them stay healthy, but also provides better protection for everyone, particularly for infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, who are at increased risk.
Adults can find free vaccinations at Mass Flu Clinics administered by the Department of Health. These day-long clinics will be held in all 75 counties during the last week of October and the first week of November. Some locations will feature "drive-thrus," making it possible to receive the vaccine without having to leave your vehicle. While these clinics are free, people with insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or ARKids First are asked to bring their cards. If you do not have insurance or your insurance company doesn't cover flu shots, the vaccine still will be provided to you at no charge. You can find a complete list of clinic sites online at Healthy.Arkansas.gov.
Contrary to always-circulating rumors, the vaccine will not give you the flu. Flu-shot recipients may notice mild soreness and redness near the site of the injection. A nasal spray vaccine may provide an alternative for healthy children and adults who don't want to take shots, although it's not an option that can work for everyone. Both methods have been shown to be safe, and every year, hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. receive them. Last year, the Arkansas Department of Health vaccinated nearly 400,000 people.
The health of our State this season depends on the preventive efforts of every one of us. Keeping your loved ones healthy will further reduce your risk of getting sick too. I urge you to make arrangements to get your flu vaccine and encourage your friends and family members to do so as well.