People Should Get Annual Flu Shots, Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2006 - All people, particularly very young and older citizens, should obtain an annual flu shot, a top DoD health official said here today.

The influenza virus is a contagious respiratory illness that annually kills about 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes 200,000, Dr. David N. Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.

Therefore, obtaining the annual vaccine against influenza is "a safety measure we should all embrace," Tornberg asserted.

Active-duty servicemembers are required to be immunized against the flu each year, Tornberg pointed out. The defense department has "an abundant supply" of vaccine on hand for this year's flu season, he said, which started in October and runs through May.

Catching the flu is normally an unpleasant, but not life-threatening, experience that can last several days, Tornberg said, noting flu symptoms can include muscle aches, a runny nose, a dry, sore throat, cough, fever and chills.

However, Tornberg said, the flu can be dangerous to some people with undeveloped or compromised immune systems. Those most vulnerable to getting the flu, he noted, are children from six months to five years of age and adults ages 50 and older.

It's particularly important, Tornberg said, that people within that group - as well as health care workers and caregivers for seniors -- get flu shots each year.

"We extend the safety net widely by immunizing those groups and those groups associated with vulnerable populations," he said.

Getting immunized against the flu doesn't guarantee that you won't get it, Tornberg noted. But, people who do get an annual flu shot, greatly reduce their chances of contracting the virus, he said.

Tornberg said flu shots also can mitigate the effects of the virus, if one comes down with the flu after taking the vaccine.

It takes about two weeks for a person to develop immunity benefits after getting a flu shot, Tornberg said. It's a good idea to get a flu shot in October or November, he said, but vaccinations can be obtained throughout the flu season.

"DoD has more that adequate supplies" of flu vaccine to administer to military members, he reiterated.

The medical field today is much better prepared to address influenza than it was back in 1918, when a flu epidemic killed millions of Americans, Tornberg said.

"The 1918 flu epidemic occurred in a population that was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of a major influenza [outbreak]," Tornberg said. There were no acute care facilities available at that time, he pointed out, nor were there antibiotics that could be used to treat pneumonia and other secondary illnesses sometimes brought on by the flu.

"An excess burden of death was the consequence of that flu [epidemic]," Tornberg said.

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