State health officials: get your flu shot now

There seems to be something going around on the Grand Strand that's making people sick. It's not the flu, but it is causing sniffles, sneezes and a day or two of lost work for those who catch it.

It has many people thinking about the flu season ahead and though the peak of the season is still months away, you can already find plenty of pharmacies and clinics around the Grand Strand putting the word out that flu shots are available.

While it may seem too soon to be thinking about it, health officials say this may just be the right time to get a shot.

Retired nurse Alice Robertson came to the Beach Urgent Care clinic in Myrtle Beach Tuesday to get her vaccination.

"Get it done early because you never know when the flu season's going to really start. I found that out as being a nurse that, it'll start and creep along and then all of a sudden, it just blasts out," Robertson said. In past years she said some locations ran out of the vaccine early and it was no longer available when she wanted it. She's taking no chances this year.

The clinic's president Dr. Ron Reynolds advises his patients to get their shots out of the way early in the season, when the vaccine is readily available.

"It takes a couple weeks for it to build up in your system, so even if you get it today, you won't have the immunity for 10 to 14 days, so again, the sooner the better," Reynolds said.

Patients shouldn't be concerned the vaccine will lose its potency before the end of the flu season, which usually peaks in mid-winter, Reynolds said. "There's not a feeling that if you get it first thing when it comes out, that it's not going to be strong enough in February. It will be."

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months should get the vaccine. Seniors and young children are the most susceptible to the disease, health officials say.

Availability of the vaccine should be less of a problem this year than most, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

DHEC Region 6 public health director Tom Russo said vaccine production nationwide is ramping up this year. "They are producing some 166 to 173 million doses this year, so that's just more than was ever produced before."

Russo said more vaccine manufacturers are coming online, including a new plant in North Carolina.

The CDC does not foresee any new seasonal strains to be concerned about this year, he said. "The H1N1, H3N2 and then the influenza B virus, so those three viruses are the targets, just as last year."

Russo said more private providers, including pharmacies, supermarkets and even discount stores are making flu shots available this year. Those who would prefer a public clinic can still call the DHEC Region 6 flu clinic hotline at 843-915-8810 or visit the DHEC website to find a clinic nearby.

The flu cost U.S. employers $10 billion in lost productivity last year, Russo added, which provides another reason why everyone should get vaccinated.

"There is no excuse not to get a flu shot," he said.