FORT BLISS, Texas -- According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, an average of 36,000 Americans, the approximate size of two to three Army divisions, die every year from complications due to influenza.

According to William Beaumont Army Medical Center officials, thousands of Fort Bliss Soldiers and health care workers continue to receive influenza vaccinations, and open dates for the greater Bliss community are soon to follow.

The CDC estimates that up to 150,000 El Pasoans will suffer from the flu this season, which loosely runs between October and May.

There may be a few misconceptions about flu vaccinations, such as it contains the virus itself and can make a person sick. Lt. Col. Donna Upshaw-Combs, chief of WBAMC's Army Public Health Nursing, said that's not the case as it contains protein segments of flu strains.

"Rarely, recipients may feel a bit sluggish after receiving the vaccine, but that's just the body building up immunities and a common effect," said Upshaw-Combs. "You don't get the flu from the flu vaccine."

It may also be believed that receiving a flu vaccination for the 2009-2010 season means a new vaccination this season is unnecessary. This is also not the case as the makeup of every season's vaccine is a reflection of the types of viruses discovered during the previous season. For example, this year's vaccine includes defenses against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. Commonly known as swine flu, last year the virus started the first pandemic (global outbreak of disease caused by a new flu virus) in more than 40 years.

"H1N1 viruses are included in this year's vaccination," said Upshaw-Combs. "Last year when we had the pandemic with H1N1 [World Health Organization and CDC] started collaboration on this year's vaccine right then and there. This year's vaccine contains vaccines against A and B [flu strains] and H1N1 so it's a combination vaccine."

Upshaw-Combs said there may also be a belief that the shot is more effective than the Nasal-Spray Flu Vaccine; which is also untrue. Clinical trial has shown both influenza vaccines' effectiveness between 70 and 90 percent.

"People are so used to the shot they think the inter-nasal [vaccine] can't be right," said Upshaw-Combs. "The mist is safe for kids as young as 2 years old. It's only two puffs, it's very effective, and to me it's less traumatic and it's a shot I don't have to take."

The shot is recommended for anyone six months and older, while recipients 2 to 49 can opt for the mist as long as they're in good general health.

Bliss Soldiers continue to be vaccinated as they are primary targets for WBAMC in respect to high troop readiness, and now health care workers are being targeted because of their frequent contact with patients. Upshaw-Combs said these groups are being served first for particular reasons.

"With the Army our first priority is to make sure we cover active-duty Soldiers because we have to make sure we're ready to deploy and fit to fight," said Upshaw-Combs, "this is a large part of a Soldier's readiness. If a Soldier is out with the flu, it's not just going to be one, it'll be 10, or maybe a whole battalion because the flu is contagious. We take care of health care workers because of their common exposure to the public. The vaccine will be offered to all our beneficiaries once our vaccine supply increases."

She added that Team Bliss members don't necessarily have to wait for open date availabilities on post if they're insured by certain TRICARE coverages.

"Beneficiaries can go to a TRICARE provider or TRICARE-approved pharmacy and get their flu vaccinations," said Upshaw-Combs. "They can get it at either no cost, or through cost reimbursement." Participating pharmicies in the El Paso area and beyond can be found at www.express-scripts.com/tricare/pharmacy.

Also, Upshaw-Combs said beneficiaries in a higher-risk category in terms of being stricken with influenza can request vaccination through their respective WBAMC clinics. For example, pregnant women should contact WBAMC's Obstetrics and Gynecology Department and parents of children should contact their Pediatrics Clinic for availabilities.

Upshaw-Combs said while being vaccinated isn't the only way members of the Bliss community should protect themselves from the spread of the influenza virus this season, it's a simple, effective method to stay healthy.

"From six months and older, everyone should get the flu vaccine," said Upshaw-Combs. "Your health and safety is our number one concern; the most effective line of defense against infection is the influenza vaccine. Thirty-five thousand people die every year from influenza and it's preventable."

For more information on seasonal influenza, visit www.cdc.gov/flu. If you're a training noncomissioned officer, a unit S-1 representative or first sergeant, and you'd like to schedule your unit for flu vaccination, contact WBAMC Public Health Nursing at 569-9859. To know when general vaccinations will start this season, visit www.wbamc.amedd.army. mil and www.bliss.army.mil regularly as information will be updated as it becomes available. Also, be sure to call WBAMC's flu hotline at 569-3142.

Page last updated Thu October 21st, 2010 at 11:17