Howard County residents can protect themselves against the coming flu season by getting influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia shots at eight clinics, starting this fall.
Conducted by the Howard County Health Department, the clinics begin Oct. 5 at Owen Brown Place in Columbia and conclude Nov. 16 at the Ellicott City Health Center.
Pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza are a major cause of adult illness and death, with the flu exacting a particularly severe toll.
An estimated half-million Americans have died as a result of influenza epidemics during the last 20 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Americans also lose more than 15 million work days annually as a result of illness from influenza.
The CDC also says that about 30 percent of those 65 and older are immunized against influenza, and only 14 percent are immunized against pneumonia.
Howard County Nursing Director Ruth Talbot urged residents to arm themselves against these illnesses.
The flu, an acute infection of the respiratory tract caused by a virus, is characterized by an abrupt onset of fever, sore throat, and severe aches and pains. Extreme cases can be fatal.
Because the flu virus changes from year to year, it is important to get a flu shot every year, Ms. Talbot said.
Pneumococcal pneumonia, meanwhile, is caused by a bacteria and can affect the lungs, bloodstream and covering of the brain. The vaccine is given only once during a person's lifetime.
Both vaccinations are recommended for adults 65 years and older, and those with chronic long-term illnesses, such as heart, lung or kidney disease.
Last year, about 3,000 Howard County residents received a flu shot, Ms. Talbot said. More than 400 received a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination.
To reach as many people as possible, the clinics are offered at community rooms, fire halls and apartment complexes throughout the county.
The clinics are timed to provide maximum protection from the ravages of the flu.
"You don't want to do it too early or too late," Ms. Talbot said. "If the influenza shots are given too far in advance, the antibody levels may begin to decline within a few months of the vaccine and you won't be protected."
It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, she said. In the United States, the flu season usually peaks between late December and early March.
Further information is available by calling one of the three health centers: Columbia, 313-7500; Ellicott City, 313-2333; or Southeastern, 880-5888, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.