Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TOP STORY >> Flu shots go fast, but there’s more

Leader staff writer

Arkansans hoping to get the seasonal flu shot at the Jacksonville Medical Clinic will have to look elsewhere. The clinic has used up its entire allotment of 4,000 doses.

The best deal in the area is the mass flu clinic this Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., because the vaccine for both the seasonal flu and swine flu are offered for free by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Plenty of doses of the seasonal flu vaccine should be on hand, clinic organizers say. But because the supply of H1N1 flu vaccine is limited, it will be offered only to groups considered at especially high risk for complications if they contract the flu: pregnant women, children from 6 months to 4 years of age, and children ages 5 to 18 years of age who have an underlying medical condition such as asthma.

State health officials say that eventually there will be enough H1N1 vaccine for all Arkansans wanting it.

But for now, shipments are only trickling in and when that will change is unknown. This means that the H1N1 vaccine is in short supply for community and school clinics, which were scheduled months ago. Health Department officials say that additional clinics may be scheduled once the supply of vaccine increases.

Dr. Alan Storeygard, a family practice physician at Jacksonville Medical Clinic, says his office is “always busy with respiratory complaints” – cough, congestion, aches and pains. What is different now is the influx of young people. The challenge for a physician is that these symptoms are associated with a variety of ailments besides the flu, including mononucleosis, strep throat or a simple cold virus.

“You can’t tell who has got it and who hasn’t without a lab test,” Storeygard said. “We had a pair of sisters come in, one looked really sick and the other didn’t. It turned out the one who seemed less sick had it. The other didn’t.”

With a lab test, those with the flu can begin taking an anti-viral, such as Tamiflu, “which seems to be helping,” Storeygard said.

To get some solid numbers on who is coming down with the flu, Storeygard yesterday sifted through several months of test results from his lab for type A influenza. Both seasonal and H1N1 strains are type A, but because the seasonal flu has not yet arrived in Arkansas – health officials believe – that leaves H1N1 as the only possible cause behind a positive lab-test result.

Storeygard found that the first test done in his office to come back positive was on Aug. 3. Out of 763 tests to date, 88 were positive, for individuals ranging in age from 1 year to 66 years. Of the 88 positives, 51 were for people ages 20 years or younger.

Taking into account the age distribution for the Jacksonville population, based on a rough comparison with U.S. census data, Storeygard’s findings suggest that the H1N1 flu is indeed affecting a disproportionately higher percentage of children.

Free shots

Thursday: Jacksonville Community Center, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Friday: Cabot Community Center, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Dec. 4; Beebe Health Unit, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.