ALBANY -- District Health Director J. Paul Newell M.D., Southwest Health District, announced Wednesday that the health district is lifting its restrictions on influenza administration.

The vaccine, which was previously given to those who met the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) high-risk category criteria, will now be offered to the general public.

The decision to lift the restrictions was made after the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR), Division of Public Health, upon consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced Friday that it was lifting the restrictions the agency instituted last October.

"Now that we are lifting the restrictions on vaccine administration, we are encouraging everyone interested in the vaccine to get an influenza vaccination," stated Newell.

Flu vaccine is available throughout the 14-county health district. Local health departments began giving the vaccine to the general public Wednesday.

Those interested in receiving a flu shot should contact their local health department or primary care physician for more information.

The health district is urging everyone to get vaccinated particularly those who are in the high-risk category. "We are concerned that there are some who fit the high-risk category who have not been vaccinated. Our staff wants to make certain that those most vulnerable to the flu are vaccinated," said Dr. Newell. The high-risk category includes the following:

Adults aged above 65 years

- All women who will be pregnant during influenza season

- Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities

- Children 6 months-18 years of age on chronic aspirin therapy

- Health-care workers with direct patient care responsibilities

- Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged less than 6 months

- People aged 2 to 64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions; these include people who have chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular system disorders, including asthma, and people who have required regular medical follow up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies or immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV))

- VFC-eligible children and adolescents (through age 18) who are out-of-home caregivers (working at daycares, baby-sitting, high-risk children, etc.) or household contacts of people in high-risk groups.

- Adults aged 50 to 64 years

- Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of people in

high-risk groups

Public health will work to make flu vaccine available to private providers for their patients. The private practice community is urged to contact their local health departments to register their needs for vaccine supply.

Additionally, health officials would like to remind everyone that although vaccination is the best method of protection against the flu, it isn't the only method for preventing the illness.

It is extremely important that everyone practices respiratory etiquette and good hygiene.

Covering your coughs and sneezes, and properly and frequently washing hands with soap and warm water will help to prevent flu transmission. People should also stay home when sick with a serious, contagious illness like flu, and, whenever possible, avoid contact with people who are sick with the flu.



THOMAS COUNTY FLU WATCH

- As of Wednesday afternoon, Thomas County's Health Department had 25 flu shots available to the general public; more can be ordered to meet the public's demand

- So far this flu season, about 2,100 people have received flu shots from the health department

- To date, Thomas County has not reported any confirmed flu cases to the Southwest Health District, which covers a 14-county area



SOURCE: Sheena Haynes, public information officer for the Southwest Health District

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