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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Laura Munoz (left) jokes with Justina Arriaza, R.N., with the Arkansas Department of Health, Thursday, October 13, 2016, before receiving her shot at a Arkansas Department Health shot clinic at the Jones Center in Springdale.

SPRINGDALE -- Public influenza vaccination clinics have begun in Northwest Arkansas as the annual flu season nears.

The Arkansas Department of Health plans a mass vaccine clinic Thursday at The Jones Center on Emma Avenue, following clinics this week in Scott and Madison counties. The department has scheduled still more clinics throughout the area in the next two months.

At a glance

Health Department flu vaccine clinics

The Arkansas Health Department will offer flu vaccines at no cost to patients at several public clinics in the next several weeks. Madison County’s clinic was held Tuesday. The vaccines are also available at the department’s county units or from private health care providers.

• Washington County

When: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Jones Center, 922 E. Emma Ave., Springdale

• Carroll County

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: 402 Hailey Road, Berryville

• Crawford County

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Office of Emergency Management, 1820 Chestnut St., Van Buren

• Sebastian County

When: 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday

Where: 3112 S. 70th St., Fort Smith

• Benton County

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 20

Where: Rogers Activity Center, 315 Olive St.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

Several flu virus strains can cause fever, body aches and a sore throat and occasionally be severe or deadly, so the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone at least 6 months old get an annual vaccine. The shots at the Health Department's clinics are covered by recipients' health insurance or provided free.

The CDC blames thousands of deaths a year on the flu and related health problems. Arkansas' Health Department counted about 60 flu-related deaths during the flu season that ended in April, most of them residents 65 or older. The worst season on record for the state came in 2014 and 2015, when 110 deaths were connected to the flu.

"The flu should not be taken lightly," said Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist at the department. "We are encouraging everyone to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their families, because it is hard to predict in advance how severe the flu season is going to be this year."

Flu viruses typically flare up from December to late spring, according to the CDC. The disease's surge traditionally has been blamed on factors such as spending more time indoors and around other people in the cold months. The virus is spread by coughing and sneezing. Research in recent years from Oregon State University and New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has found the virus easily drifts from one person to another in cooler, dryer air.

Each year manufacturers and the government formulate vaccines that can provide protection against some of the more common varieties of the virus circulating at the time. Vaccines help the body's immune system by essentially making it practice by introducing pieces or weakened specimens of certain germs into the body without causing their full disease. Blood cells recognize and repel the full-strength virus if it attacks later.

Like most vaccines, flu shots or nasal sprays don't protect everyone who gets them, and the CDC says upcoming flu seasons are impossible to predict because of people's choices and the virus's ability to rapidly change. There's no obvious reason Arkansas' season a few years ago was so bad, Health Department spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said Tuesday.

"Flu seasons tend to kind of cycle that way, and we don't always know why," she said.

Common vaccine side effects include soreness and head or muscle aches and are generally mild, according to the CDC.

The CDC nonetheless credits the vaccine with preventing tens of thousands of hospitalizations and millions of illnesses in the 2015-16 season alone. The Health Department said the vaccine's particularly helpful for older adults and others at greater risk for complications.

Besides the public clinics, the Health Department will have dozens of vaccination events in public schools starting next month. The vaccine is voluntary, unlike those for diseases such as the mumps that are required unless a parent seeks a waiver.

Rick Schaeffer, Springdale Public Schools spokesman, said the district recommends the vaccine and offers it for free to all of its 24,000 students and staff members. About 70 percent of the students take the offer, he said.

"It absolutely makes a difference," he said. It doesn't prevent the illness in every person who gets it, he noted, "but it reduces your chances considerably."

NW News on 09/27/2017

Print Headline: State begins flu vaccinations

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