Health officials say 'wash your hands, get your flu shot' |

Health officials: Wash your hands. Get your flu shot.

Ann Irvin, a registered nurse who has worked as a public health nurse for Northwest Colorado Health, administers a flu shot. (File photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado and Routt County have managed to avoid any major flu epidemic this season. In fact, Centers for Disease Control cases are markedly down from the same time last year. But, local health experts warn that airplanes full of tourists could soon change that.

“With the holiday starting, we will see more spikes in cases as travelers come into town,” said Lauren Bryan, infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.

Bryan said, as of Dec. 8, the Colorado Department of Health registered 121 cases of people being hospitalized for the flu statewide with more than half of those cases affecting people 50 years of age or older. No hospitalizations have been reported in Routt or Moffat counties.

Public Health Nurse Jacque Malley at Northwest Colorado Health encourages people to get the flu shot now, so they can build up their antibodies to the flu.

“Take time to get the flu vaccine, especially before traveling,” Malley said. “It takes the body one to two weeks to build up antibodies against the flu.”

While flu shots are quite helpful, Bryan said one simple step will keep folks healthy from communicable illnesses like flu, colds and pink eye.

“Eighty-five percent of communicable diseases are spread by our contaminated, grubby little hands,” said Bryan. “The average person touches their face six times an hour. We end up transmitting from our hands to us.”

Steamboat Springs School District officials report no flu-like symptoms are currently being experienced by its student body but reminds parents to keep their children home at least 24 hours after their last fever, vomiting or diarrhea to stop the spread of illness.

Misconceptions about flu vaccines

Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?

No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle are currently made in two ways.

  • The vaccine is made with flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and therefore are not infectious.
  • The vaccine is made using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection. This is the case for recombinant influenza vaccines.

Why do some people who get a seasonal flu vaccine still get sick?

• Other respiratory viruses such as rhinoviruses, associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.

• Getting exposed to influenza shortly before getting vaccinated. It can take up to 2 weeks to develop immune protection, so a person may already have the flu before the vaccine takes effect.

• Being exposed to a different type of flu virus. The CDC calculates which influenza viruses are likely to be strong during a season, and drug companies make their vaccines based on the data.

• The flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick with the flu.

Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?

No. Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults and people with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.

Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?

Yes. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months of age and older. A person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” protection against the flu.

This information was provided by

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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