Flu 2019

By the Ellsworth Free Clinic's Dr. Margaret Harling & Dr. Brant Viner

Well, it’s flu season again. There’s a higher than usual incidence in some states, but not yet here in Maine. Last year there were 10,000 cases of influenza in Maine, and 45 deaths (including a 3 year old).  A more severe year is projected by the Maine CDC.


Influenza is a serious disease. What begins as fever, headache and muscle aches can progress rapidly to a life threatening situation.  Most at risk are the young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Sometimes though, as in the pandemic of 1917, teenagers and young adults are most at risk. Easily transmitted, the virus can live on many surfaces. Door knobs or shopping carts, touched by someone who is sick, or doesn’t yet know they’re sick, can spread the disease.


So, have you had a flu shot yet?


Flu shots are available at many sites in Ellsworth. You may get yours in a doctor’s office or one of many pharmacies that offer the service. Cost is usually about $40, covered by your insurance, if you have it.


This year, the Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic has received a generous donation that will allow us to offer free flu shots to those without health insurance, or those with only “catastrophic” insurance which does not pay for Primary Care.. Our Flu Clinic will be held on December 14th from 10am-2pm, at our Clinic at the Mill Mall. All are welcome, but please be aware that this is an opportunity for those for whom paying would be a hardship.


Observations we’ve heard about Flu shots;


1.   I’ve heard that the shot can give people the “flu”.

This is not true.  The vaccine takes about two weeks to produce immunity.  If people develop symptoms   soon after receiving the “flu shot”, it is likely they caught it before, or soon after, getting the shot and before they developed immunity.

2.   I’ve heard that the “flu shot” can make some people very sick.

This is true. Just as some people can become ill after eating seafood or nuts, some people do have bad reactions to flu vaccines.  Fortunately, such severe reactions are extremely rare.  Most people are likely to nothing more than a sore arm for a day or two.

3.   I’ve heard that the shot does not always match the type of flu going around.

This is also true.  The makeup of the flu virus changes from year to year, often only slightly, but occasionally quite a bit.  Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the most likely strains to circulate in the following season and all vaccine manufacturers target these strains.  In years when there is a good match between flu vaccines and circulating flu viruses, vaccination halves your risk of getting flu.  And, even when WHO does not get it perfectly right, vaccination will reduce your risk of getting severe flu - requiring  hospitalization, intensive care and even dying during flu season.  This protective effect is seen particularly in the very young, people with significant medical problems, persons over 65 years of age and pregnant women.

4.   I’ve never had a flu shot and I’ve never caught the flu.

You have been lucky.  But your luck is unlikely to last forever.  Influenza is extremely infectious.  As noted, the virus can be transmitted from almost anything an infected person has touched.  “Avoid the sick” you say. This is a good idea.  But infected people can shed the virus for a day or so before they begin to feel unwell.

5.   It’s painful and expensive.

There is a little pain or burning when you get the shot, and sometimes your arm might feel sore for a couple of days.  However, the flu is far worse.  In addition to the fever, headache, muscle aches and cough, you’ll have to call out of work.  You won’t be available for your kids (who may also be sick), you may require expensive hospitalization, and you may even die. As to expense.  As noted, Medicare and many health insurances cover the flu shot.  Many people choose to pay the $40 for the shot because the consequences of getting the flu are so dire.  For those without adequate insurance, or the means to pay, we are holding a Flu Clinic at the Ellsworth Free Clinic in the Mill Mall, on Saturday, December 14th from 10am to 2pm.