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October 26, 2004

Anxious To Get A Flu Shot?

By: James M. Spears, MD

Due to production problems overseas, roughly half of the flu vaccine expected to be available in the U. S. for this year will not arrive. The Centers for Disease Control is now recommending that flu vaccine only be given only to people at greatest risk from serious complications from the flu.

All individuals in the following groups should be vaccinated:

  • People 65 years of age and older
  • Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic lung or heart disorders (such as asthma, emphysema, coronary artery disease)
  • Women who will be pregnant during the flu season
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities
  • Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney diseases, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems, including persons with HIV/AIDS
  • Children ages 6 months to 23 months
  • Household members and out-of-home caregivers of infants under 6 months of age (Children under 6 months of age cannot be vaccinated.)
  • Healthcare workers who provide direct, hands-on care to patients
  • Children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years of age, who take aspirin daily

If you are not in any of the above high risk groups, please forego a flu shot this year. There are not enough shots for all the high risk individuals, so if you get the shot, someone else who really needs it goes without.

The Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic of The Actors' Fund of America is compiling a list of qualifying people who have not been able to get the flu shot elsewhere. Being on the Flu Vaccine Waiting List does not guarantee that you will get a vaccine from the Hirschfeld Clinic, but should a supply of vaccine arrive, the Clinic will start calling listed people. If you are an adult (age 18 and older) who meets the above high-risk criteria and are an entertainment professional, you can be added to the Hirschfeld Clinic's waiting list. Just call the Clinic and leave a message with your name, your high-risk qualification from the list above and your telephone number, and you will be added to the list.

There are a few very simple rules to decrease the spread of the flu and to lower your risk of catching it.

1)Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you must be in close contact, wash your hands with soap and warm water or alcohol-based hand cleaner FREQUENTLY.

2)Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze - and dispose of the tissue afterward. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Wash your hands! Shaking hands with someone who has just coughed or sneezed can transmit the virus to you.

3)If you get the flu, stay home from work. You will prevent your co-workers from catching your illness.

James M. Spears, MD is the Medical Director of the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, a program of The Actors' Fund of America, and an employee of Columbia University Medical Center.

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