It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate; As More People in the U.S. Succumb to the Flu Bug, the Time for Flu Protection is Now

GAITHERSBURG, Md., and MADISON, N.J. -- If you think the time for annual influenza vaccinations has come and gone, think again. As flu season gets underway, with outbreaks already occurring in many states, including Texas, Colorado, and Florida, now is the time to see your doctor or pharmacist to get vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that it is not too late to get vaccinated once an outbreak has begun. And because one of the influenza strains in circulation this year is a variant of the strains contained in all influenza vaccines, it is especially important to get vaccinated now if you have not already done so.

Although flu vaccination generally takes place in October or November, it may still be effective when administered in December and throughout the influenza season. If you have not yet received a vaccination, now is time to get one to help you and your family stay healthy during the holidays. Although the timing of influenza activity changes each year, and isolated outbreaks can occur at any time, the CDC reminds us that the peak month of influenza activity historically has been in February.

And now there is a new way to help avoid bringing the flu home this holiday season. For the first time, healthy people 5 to 49 years of age can be vaccinated with FluMist, Influenza Virus Vaccine Live, Intranasal, the first needle-free flu vaccine available in the U.S. FluMist helps prevent the flu where the virus usually enters the body -- through the nose.

"The winter months are not too late to get vaccinated against the flu," advises Jim King, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of vaccine studies at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "Flu vaccination is important not only to help prevent the sickness caused by influenza, but also to help stop the spread of the virus within a community. Because the flu has already hit several states in the U.S., everyone, including healthy people, should be vaccinated now for influenza if they haven't already. In fact, early indications show that it could be a severe flu season."

While there has traditionally been a focus on protecting the elderly and those at increased risk for complications from influenza, the flu can also be a heavy burden for even the healthiest populations. School children and working adults are at increased risk for catching influenza because the flu quickly spreads in closed environments, such as schools and offices. School-aged children are usually the first to contract influenza and often bring the flu home, infecting parents and other household contacts. In most outbreaks, school absenteeism is usually followed by employee absenteeism. For example, one study found that for every 100 students monitored during the flu season, there were 63 missed school days and 20 missed workdays by parents. In addition, college students and frequent travelers are also at increased risk for catching influenza and spreading it to others.

FluMist is manufactured by MedImmune Vaccines, Inc., and co-promoted with Wyeth Vaccines. It is now available in more than 15,000 doctors' offices and pharmacies for the 2003-2004 influenza season.

FluMist is indicated for active immunization for the prevention of disease caused by influenza A and B viruses in healthy children and adolescents, 5 to 17 years of age, and healthy adults, 18 to 49 years of age.

There are risks associated with all vaccines, including FluMist. FluMist does not protect 100 percent of individuals vaccinated, or protect against viral strains not represented in the vaccine. FluMist is not indicated for immunization of individuals less than 5 years of age, or 50 years of age and older.

FluMist is contraindicated in persons with hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine, including eggs; in children and adolescents receiving aspirin therapy or aspirin-containing therapy; in individuals with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome; and in individuals with known or suspected immune deficiency. The safety and efficacy of FluMist have not been established in pregnant women or for patients with chronic underlying medical conditions, including asthma or reactive airways disease; the vaccine should not be administered to these patients. In placebo-controlled clinical trials, the most common solicited adverse events in healthy children (n=214) included runny nose/nasal congestion, cough, irritability, headache, decreased activity, sore throat, fever (oral temperature >100 degrees F), muscle aches, chills, and vomiting. The most common adverse events in healthy adults (n=2,548) included runny nose, headache, sore throat, tiredness/weakness, muscle aches, cough, and chills.

Source: Wyeth; MedImmune, Inc.

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