Health officials provide opportunity to prepare for flu season

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Flu season is rapidly approaching and Dr. Steven Mostow was at The Memorial Hospital (TMH) Thursday to speak about the influenza, or flu, virus and vaccinations.

Mostow is an associate dean and professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Since January he has traveled to 42 rural health care sites in five states and held more than 70 presentations discussing infectious diseases and preventions. His stop in Craig focused on the influenza virus.

According to Mostow, the batch of the flu this year looks to be strong.

"We are expecting a bad case of Influenza A this year," Mostow said. According to Mostow, a good indication of the severity of the flu season is how Alaska has fared against the virus.

"When it is bad in Alaska, it's predictive of how it will be in the lower 48," Mostow said. A major reason for the outbreaks in Alaska is because of the cruise ships. The virus boards the ships as the passengers do, spreads, and the vacationers bring the flu back to their homelands.

Mostow spearheaded the idea of community coalition to prevent influenza in Denver and his idea has spread fast. He started the "Denver model," which is giving immunization shots in grocery stores, pharmacies, senior centers and office work sites, 15 years ago and the model is standard at 325 different stores in 183 U.S. cities and several foreign countries. When the program started, about 100,000 people in Colorado received flu shots. Now more than 1 million people are vaccinated each year. Because of the success of the Denver model, Mostow won an award from the U.S. secretary of health education for his efforts.

Influenza is a definite force in the area.

"Ten percent of the population gets the flu and 40,000 people die from it each year," Mostow said.

Mostow will launch the push for flu season vaccination via television in Denver on Sept. 30. Federal officials state the beginning of the flu season to be mid-October and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) begins giving public shots Oct. 11.

Influenza is the sixth leading cause of death among all people and the fourth leading cause of death in the elderly. Twelve billion dollars is spent on treating influenza each year. This is in comparison to $2 billion spent for AIDS treatment.

The shot costs $8 and is free to people over 65. Thanks to the help of Mostow and the VNA, the shot is given in Craig at Safeway, City Market, Centennial Mall and area businesses. According to Carol Sharp, coordinator of the event in Craig, the price of the shot in Colorado is much less than other places in the country. The average nationwide price is about $40.

The Colorado cost of $8 is less than a visit to a doctor. On average, after an office visit and the actual shot, clinics will charge about $125. The VNA in Craig is a non-profit organization and all money made from the shots goes back to the VNA to help in other clinics throughout the year.

Of those receiving the shot, 70 percent will not catch the virus and the 30 percent that do will have less severe symptoms. Each year, 60 percent of caucasians, 30 percent of African-Americans, and 20 percent of Hispanics are given the shot. The shot is 99 percent effective in preventing death, 90 percent effective in stopping a visit to the doctor and 80 percent effective in preventing a day of lost work.

In Denver and in Craig, companies realize the benefits of the shot and immunize their employees. For companies like U.S. West, one day of lost work for one employee costs the company $200 and the shot is only $8.

Sharp and Mostow both agree that people who are elderly, health care workers, those in high-risk situations (work with the public or elderly), single parents, smokers and those who have chronic illnesses should definitely get the shot. Sharp commented that children under 12 should see a doctor before having the shot.

Side effects of the shot are considered minimal. Less than 1 percent of those receiving the shot will feel like they have they flu, but will not have the virus, and 20 percent may have a sore arm for two days.

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