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Army readies for upcoming influenza season

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The Army has ordered nearly 2 million doses of vaccine to immunize all Soldiers, their families, civilian employees and retirees for the upcoming flu season.

The vaccinations will be available at most installations in October, but each medical facility will set its own schedule for distribution.

Seasonal influenza can start as early as October and run as late as May, but it generally peaks between January and March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC cautions that new flu viruses can appear that could lengthen the season -- though that's not expected for 2012 to 2013.

The Army expects to have 90 percent of the force vaccinated by Dec. 17, according to Col. Richard Looney, director of the Army Military Vaccination Program. He said vaccinations would be available at installations as soon as it's received and until the supply runs out or expires.

"Regardless of previous vaccination history, routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons age 6 months and older," Looney said. "Several studies have demonstrated that post-vaccination immunity declines over the course of a year, thus, annual vaccination is recommended for optimal protection against influenza."

Looney said about two-thirds of the Army's order for 2012 consists of vaccine that's given through intramuscular injection and the remaining third of the order is the type administered via nasal spray.

The dominant influenza strain for the upcoming flu season remains the H1N1 strain from 2009, Looney said, adding that due to outstanding efforts and immunization campaigns of the past few years, people are more aware and likely to be adequately protected during the height of flu season.

Immunization rates climb every year, and Looney said he sees no reason why that trend won't continue. An annual average of 25 million reported cases, 36,000 deaths and 226,000 hospitalizations occur each year in the U.S. due to influenza infections.

"Immunization is the very best protection against disease and related complications," Looney said. "Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history."

People who should not be vaccinated against the flu without first consulting their physicians include:

* People with severe allergies to chicken eggs

* People who have previously suffered severe reactions to influenza vaccinations

* People with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome

* Children younger than 6 months of age

* People acutely ill with fevers -- those with a mild, common cold and a low-grade fever do not have to wait to be vaccinated.

Vaccination is especially important for the following, in order to decrease the risk of illness:

* Pregnant women

* Children younger than age 5 and especially children under age 2

* People 65 years of age and older

* American Indians and Alaskan natives

* People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions

* People who are morbidly obese

* People who live in nursing homes

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