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ANG immunization expert says flu shot still vital

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) -- It's deep into flu season, and public health officials continue to work to spread the word about the importance of getting the flu shot, especially in light of a recent increase in a particularly severe flu strain affecting young adults.

A recent World Health Organization advisory indicated that flu activity remains high across North America, according to Lt. Col. Susan Walker, chief nurse executive for the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Medical Group.

"The majority of what they are seeing out there is H1N1," said Walker of the flu strain that is famous for causing severe illness and in some cases, death - even amongst otherwise healthy young adults. "The vaccine we are using this season provides protection against the Influenza A- H1N1 flu strain," she added.

Walker, a traditional Guard member, is somewhat of an expert in and out of uniform; when not helping to manage health care operations here, she teaches and assesses military immunization programs in her civilian role as an immunization healthcare specialist.

Another expert is Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Settle, a Human Resources Advisor with the 131st Bomb Wing who works as a planner for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. She attributes the uptick in H1N1 amongst the 25- to-47-year-old demographic to their neglecting to get immunized.

According to Walker, the Department of Defense has exceeded its goal to have 90 percent of the force immunized by mid-December, and Settle urges all Airmen who haven't yet done so to be sure that they get the vaccine. She also suggests that Airmen remind their friends and loved ones that it is not too late in the season to get vaccinated.

"The 'regular' flu season has not yet peaked and typically lasts until May," said Settle. Even after the flu season peaks, expeditionary Airmen remain vulnerable, according to Walker.

"Our people could deploy to areas where the flu season is still prevalent," she said, so "DOD will vaccinate for flu up to June 30, 2014 - the expiration date on the vaccine."

In addition to getting vaccinated, Settle reminds everyone to be mindful of their personal hygiene - and the hygiene of the people around them as well - in order to maximize protection against the flu.

"It is a culmination of neglecting to cough or sneeze in a tissue and going out while sick, along with not being vaccinated, that causes illness outbreaks," Settle said.

While it is important to protect yourself the flu vaccine, is not recommended to anyone who has a condition or medical reasons which advise against it. Pregnant women, young children, people with chronic health problems, and the elderly are strongly advised to get vaccinated.

Capt. Jeffrey Bishop contributed to this article.
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