Kimberly Eiss of Harbour Heights was on her way to the airport Tuesday but decided to make a quick pit stop first at the CVS pharmacy on U.S. 41.
The night before, Eiss had heard news reports that flu season had kicked off early this year and she didn’t want to take any chances.
“That’s why I’m here, to get my flu shot. I don’t want to get sick while I’m traveling,” Eiss said just before scurrying off to catch a flight to North Carolina.
Across the nation, millions of Americans are being inoculated with the influenza vaccine — also known as the flu shot — in what the Centers for Disease Control is calling one of the busiest — and earliest — flu seasons so far in nearly a decade.
During a news conference Monday, CDC officials said flu is on the rise this year, appearing almost two months earlier than normal. Experts are advising everyone to get a flu shot.
“Often, influenza actually peaks after the new year, in January, February or even later,” Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during Monday’s press conference. “This is the earliest year since 2003.”
Locally, doctors and pharmacists have been busy administering shots.
Charlotte County Health Department spokeswoman Marne Cothran said 72 children and 165 adults over the age of 19 have been vaccinated for the flu so far this year.
“And that’s just the Health Department. We don’t have numbers for private doctors or pharmacies that offer flu shots,” Cothran said, noting that the price for a flu shot at retail pharmacy stores is, in most cases, almost the same as the price the Health Department charges its patients. “So a lot of people will go to their local pharmacy because it’s more convenient,” Cothran said.
CVS pharmacist Kathy Sutherland, who gave Kimberly and her son, Madison, flu shots Tuesday, said that by 11 a.m. she had already administered five shots.
Overall, though, flu cases in Charlotte County are not at elevated levels, Cothran said.
“Charlotte County is in a pretty good position right now,” she said.
In Sarasota County, there has been a slight uptick in cases this year compared with previous years, but not enough to cause concern, said Sarasota County Health Department spokeswoman Dianne Shipley.
“We have not seen aggressive cases of flu here in Sarasota County; however, any case of flu can become severe, especially in young children and elderly who have reduced immune defenses. Pregnant women fit into that category as well,” Shipley said.
According to the CDC, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some infected, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
The upcoming season’s flu vaccine will protect against the three strains of influenza that research indicates will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.
CDC director Thomas Friedan said that 90 percent of all flu strains reported are “well-matched to this year’s flu vaccine.”
“That means that we did about as good as we could have done to put the right three strains of flu into the flu vaccines that are available on the market,” Friedan said.