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News Release

   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   November 8, 2001

George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg and Marilyn Riley

Commissioner Urges Seniors & Persons with Chronic Conditions
to Get a Flu Shot, and Others to Wait

Health and Senior Services Acting Commissioner George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, is once again urging all seniors 65 years of age or older and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV, and kidney disease, to get a flu shot at their doctor's office or a clinic in their community now before the influenza season arrives this winter.

"Each year 20,000 Americans die of influenza complications, and 90% of deaths occur among those persons 65 years of age or those with chronic medical conditions placing them at high risk," said Dr. DiFerdinando. "In most cases, these are preventable illnesses so seniors and people with chronic conditions should take steps now to protect themselves this winter."

National authorities and vaccine manufacturers are projecting more total doses produced this year compared to last, however once again delays in production and later distribution schedules require that available vaccine be given first to those at high risk of serious illness, hospitalization, complications and death due to influenza disease, Dr. DiFerdinando said.

Despite some reports promoting flu vaccination as a way to distinguish the flu symptoms from anthrax symptoms, the federal and state health authorities are not recommending that the influenza vaccine be used for this purpose among a healthy population.

"What most people think is the flu is usually some other winter bug that cannot be prevented by getting a flu shot. Most winter colds are due to non-influenza viruses," Dr. DiFerdinando said. "Secondly, while the flu shot is effective, it is not 100% effective, meaning that some vaccinated persons may still develop influenza symptoms and influenza disease."

People who are younger and healthy may still seek influenza vaccination as a way to protect themselves from the flu but it is recommended that they should wait until late November or December. Most healthy people recover from influenza in a week or two but for those who are elderly or have chronic medical conditions, influenza disease is often life threatening.

"Residents should also keep in mind that to date that while we have had two confirmed cases of inhalational anthrax disease in the state, we have thousands of cases of upper respiratory illness each year caused by common flu-like viruses," said Assistant Commissioner and State Epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz, MD. "Individuals concerned about a prolonged or unusual respiratory illness compared to upper respiratory illnesses they have experienced in the past, should consult their personal physician."


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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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