March 13, 2010

Flu shot advice may boost demand

MEREDITH GOAD

— By

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Lizzie Kutzer, 10, of Gorham, gets a flu shot from Dr. Kristy Pulsifer Friday, October 31, 2008. New this year, annual vaccination of all children aged 5-18 is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jack Milton

Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A trepidatious Elizabeth Kutzer hopped onto the exam table Friday at her pediatrician's office and covered her eyes with one hand. She knew what was coming, and she didn't like it one bit.

''You know, Mommy had it done,'' Kristen Kutzer of Gorham told her daughter, trying to comfort her. ''The more relaxed you are, the less it will hurt. Trust me. Look at Mommy.''

In short order, Dr. Kristy Pulsifer gave Elizabeth her flu shot and it was all over until next year.

Kutzer brought all three of her daughters to the doctor Friday so they could, for the first time, get routine flu shots. She had read on the Internet about the new recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all healthy children ages 6 months to 18 years get immunized against influenza, greatly expanding the population of people who get flu shots.

Previously, the CDC recommended flu shots for preschoolers and children with chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

''The real dangers in terms of the disease are for children under 5 years of age or older children with high risk factors,'' said Dr. Chris Stenberg, director of the pediatrics clinic at Maine Medical Center. ''But older children up to age 18 and then the elderly have disproportionately more symptoms and more office visits associated with influenza than (other) adults.''

School-age children are also virus factories that spread the flu from community to community faster than you can say ah-choo.

''Kids are supposed to be big spreaders,'' Pulsifer said. ''It's important to get the kids.''

In previous years, almost none of the flu vaccine ordered by the state was for children, said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, public health director for Maine. This year, because of the expanded recommendation, 70,000 of 160,000 doses ordered are for children.

Mills said that, on average, one child per year in Maine has died of influenza over the past few years, and usually the child was not seriously ill with something else before contracting the flu. The children who died were not given flu shots, she said.

''Even in a mild season, influenza is a very serious disease and a major killer,'' said Mills, who had her two children, ages 6 and 9, vaccinated this fall.

Mills is not sure how great the demand for flu shots will be, since the expanded recommendation hasn't been promoted very heavily, or for very long. But she worries that next year, the requests may become too much for doctors' offices to handle, and some plan for mass vaccinations at public places may have to be created.

Both Stenberg and Pulsifer said that they have been getting a lot of questions from parents about the new CDC recommendations and requests for vaccinations.

Although February is the peak month for respiratory viruses in Maine, Stenberg suggests getting children immunized as soon as possible. Children under 9 years old who are getting immunized for the first time need two shots spaced about a month apart, so getting the shots in October and November means they will be all prepared for the flu season by December.

Pulsifer said most doctors' offices carry preservative-free vaccine.

Kristen Kutzer said she brought her girls in for the shots because she's trying to prevent ''a house full of sick children and a sick mommy.''

''I got very sick last year from the flu,'' she said. ''I missed quite a few things with the kids. I thought this year, I'm going to do all the preventative stuff that we absolutely need to.''

One of Elizabeth's sisters, 6-year-old Katie, got a reprieve because she's had a fever for three days. Pulsifer thought she should wait.

Karalyn, 8, was not so lucky. She hugged her mother and said ''Hold my hand.''

''Oh, you tightened up,'' Pulsifer said, touching onto her arm as she prepared to insert the needle.

The doctor closed the door to get rid of outside distractions and waited for Karalyn to relax. A soft whimper, and it was over.

''See? See?'' her mother said. ''Good girl. You're awesome.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this report.

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