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As flu hits region, doctors urge residents to get vaccinated

Tribune-Democrat - 12/1/2017

Dec. 01--The first cases of influenza are showing up locally, but it's not too late to get the flu shots, doctors say.

State Health Department and national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nine Cambria County patients have tested positive for influenza virus. Somerset has four confirmed cases, and there are 14 cases for Blair, Bedford and Indiana counties combined.

The rate is still very low across Pennsylvania, designated as "local activity" on the CDC map, but it's still early in the season.

Influenza typically peaks from late December through February, said Dr. Jessica Masser, a Johnstown family practitioner.

"The sooner, the better is what we recommend," Masser said at Conemaugh Family Medical Center, 1086 Franklin St.

Local residents are getting the message that flu shots can help prevent a miserable, and potentially dangerous, viral infection, Masser said. The Family Medicine Center has been administering a lot of flu shots.

"We have actually had to reorder a couple times because we ran out," Masser said, adding that there appears to be an abundant supply of vaccine for the season.

MedExpress, 1221 Scalp Ave., has been busy with those hoping to stay healthy this flu season, said Brandon Greiner, physician assistant.

"We'd love for everyone to get the flu shot, and now is the time to definitely get them," Greiner said.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, but some protection begins right away, Masser said.

One misconception people have is that the flu shot can make them sick, Masser said.

The flu vaccine is made of dead flu virus, so it's impossible to catch the flu from the dead virus, she said.

The dead virus tricks the body into creating more antibodies to fight the flu before the live virus actually shows up.

"It makes the body think you have a virus," Masser said. "You have so many soldiers, and they are out on the front lines against the flu virus."

But the act of mustering antibodies against the flu temporarily leaves the body less protected against other, less severe viruses, Masser admits.

"All your troops are on the front lines," she said. "There's nothing guarding the rear."

Those who get sick shortly after getting the flu shot are more likely to have a common cold, rhinovirus, intestinal infection or other short-lived ailment, Masser said.

Masser recommends patients get the flu shot from their primary care doctors, who know the patients' history and have all the records.

"That doctor can make sure it's safe and effective for you," she said.

"It's a good opportunity to make sure you are up to date on all the immunizations you need."

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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(c)2017 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

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