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Area health officials urge people to get flu shot as early as possible

By GARY LIBERATORE

Healthcare professionals from local hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities held a flu forum Monday morning at the Masonic Care Community in Utica.

The professionals invited county health officials from the Oneida, Herkimer and Madison County Health Departments.

The healthcare professionals used the forum to get the word out to the public that are supporting the efforts of the state and county health departments in the overall fight to protect people from getting the flu.

At the forum, there was a lot of talk about a new state health department regulation that went into effect on July 1.

That regulation makes it mandatory, if and when the state health commissioner deems there is widespread flu in the area, for healthcare workers who have not gotten their flu shot to wear a mask whenever they are around residents or patients.

Oneida County Supervising Public Health Nurse Linda Kokoszki spoke at Monday's forum. She says statistics have historically shows the percentage of healthcare workers who get the flu vaccine each year is only between 40 and 50 percent.

"Vaccination rates among healthcare workers here remained unacceptably low," she said.

Heidi Coluzza, director of infection prevention at The St. Elizabeth Medical Center (SEMC) in Utica says those employees who receive this season's flu shot will have a sticker on their identification that they wear. That sticker will signify they've had the shot.

And for those who haven't received their flu shot, Coluzza says they will be required to wear a mask whenever they are around residents and patients, which is pretty much their entire shift.

All of the health officials in attendance want to stress three things.

First, take time to get a flu shot. They say it's the most important step in preventing flu.

Each year the flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common.

Second, take everyday preventative actions to stop the spread of germs.

If you are sick with flulike illness, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.

Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose, as it can spread germs.

And third, take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

Antiviral drugs make the illness milder and shortens the time you are sick, and the antiviral drugs may also prevent serious flu complications for people with high-risk factors.

You can now get flu vaccines at many area pharmacies and some retail stores.

For information on flu vaccine clinics in your county, here are the links:

Oneida County: http://ocgov.net/health/H1N1Information

Herkimer County: http://herkimercounty.org/content/Generic/View/29

Madison County: http://www.healthymadisoncounty.org/events/flu.htm

Otsego County: http://www.otsegocounty.com/depts/doh/Immunization.htm

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