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Vaccination Shields Service Members in Annual Flu Battle

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2003 – At this time of year clinics and hospitals can be swamped with people "bitten" by a nasty bug known as the influenza virus.

Getting the flu not only is an unpleasant experience, noted Dr. David Tornberg, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs' clinical and program policy. It's also a potentially debilitating illness that can wreak havoc in large organizations like the U.S. military.

Therefore, "it's very important that all active duty personnel be vaccinated in order to prevent the consequences of influenza, which can just devastate our military," Tornberg pointed out.

He noted many service members live in close-quarters environs such as barracks, which can facilitate the spread of illnesses like the flu.

People with flu may be ill for several days, Tornberg said, noting symptoms can include a runny nose, a dry, sore throat, cough, and fever and chills.

Rest and drinking plenty of fluids, he noted, are two time-tested methods of treating the flu. However, getting a yearly flu shot, he pointed out, can prevent an occurrence of the illness or at least mitigate its effects.

Prevalent flu strains vary from year to year, Tornberg explained. Therefore, DoD and civilian health care agencies monitor worldwide health trends, he said, to develop predictive models in determining the components "of the next flu outbreak."

Anti-flu shot vaccines contain weakened flu virus, Tornberg noted. The administration of flu shots, he continued, causes a person's body to develop antibodies programmed to combat any appearance of flu virus, thus providing a measure of immunization.

And this year there's plenty of flu vaccine to go around, Tornberg reported.

Military family members should get flu shots, too, as well as children who are 6 months of age or older, Tornberg noted. Older people should also be immunized against the flu, he added, as they can be particularly susceptible to the virus.

People who shouldn't get flu shots, Tornberg said, include those allergic to hen's eggs, from which flu shots are made, or people with weakened immune systems.

DoD doesn't offer nasally administered flu immunizations, Tornberg explained, because, as a live virus, the vaccine must be provided in several doses in the nasal version. The syringe-administered flu shot is better for the time-pressed military, he noted, because one shot provides immunity.

People who are uncertain if they should get flu shots or nasal immunizations should consult with their physician, he said.

Annual immunization against the flu is a worthwhile endeavor since the virus can indeed be dangerous, Tornberg emphasized, noting that pneumonia and even respiratory failure can result in severe cases.

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, he pointed out, killed millions worldwide.

However, such a catastrophe is unlikely to be repeated today, Tornberg said, noting, "We (the nation) lacked the medical facilities in those days to deal with the subsequent complications of the flu."

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