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Health Department Issues Flu Shot Advisory

Due to the national shortage of the influenza vaccine for the 2004-05 Flu Season, Alexandria's Health Department has suggested that the following people be given first priority to receive a vaccination:

* Children age six to 23 months

* Adults aged 65 and older

* Persons with underlying chronic medical conditions

* Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season

* Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities

* Children up to 18 years of age on chronic aspirin therapy

* Health-care workers involved in direct patient care

* Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children under six months of age

People not in any of these groups should not be vaccinated at this time, according to the department. There are other ways to protect against contracting the flu and spreading germs, they said. These include:

*. Use tissues to cover the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.

* Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Dry hands and handle any faucet with a disposable towel.

* If soap and water are not available use an anti-bacterial hand gel.

* Don't share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items.

"Fortunately, we are not seeing a large number of ill residents now, but the challenge for the community will be staying healthy," said Dr. Charles Konigsberg, Jr., director, Alexandria Health Department.

"Eating right, getting enough rest, and frequent hand washing will be extremely important this Fall and Winter. Flu shots are an important tool in keeping the number of people with flu low. Now that we don't have this as an option this season, we are going to have to work even harder to stay well," Konigsberg said.

The department advises, "If you get the flu, try to avoid public places and stay home from work and/or school. Don't visit hospitals and/or nursing homes."

THE VACCINE SHORTAGE has stopped vaccinations offered by the Inova Health Care System, including Inova Alexandria and Inova Mount Vernon.

"All of the community vaccine clinics have been canceled at this point until we are able to reassess our supply and find the best way to utilize it in order to serve our high risk population," said Beth Visioli, of Inova Health Care System.

Once the CDC informs the health community about the vaccine status and whether or not they will be able to provide vaccines in the clinics, then Inova will hopefully be able to open some of the local clinics, said Visioli.

The CDC Reports that in an average year, 36,000 people die from the flu and 114,000 people are hospitalized across the country. Last year, they tracked 152 flu-related deaths among children under the age of 18-years.

Currently, all medical organizations that offer flu vaccinations are waiting on the CDC to announce the next steps in distributing the limited amount of vaccinations they do have, and are strongly encouraging people who are not in the high risk group to refrain from getting the vaccination.

Further flu information is available at the Virginia Department of Health website, www.vdh.va.us.