Keeping the influenza off Yokota
YOKOTA AIR BASE - Runny nose, sore throat, high fever and headache -- these are some of the general symptoms of flu that no one looks forward to experiencing. The flu vaccine can help prevent these symptoms from occurring.
According to Staff Sgt. Victoria Bassett, the NCO in charge of the 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Immunization Clinic, the current influenza vaccination rate for U.S. Air Force service members is at 98 percent. As for Yokota Air Base, Japan, the rate is at 99 percent.
With a very high rate of vaccination for the service members at Yokota, it may seem like Yokota is immune to the flu this season. However, there always lies a chance to catch the flu.
Only 44 percent of the beneficiary population, such as civilians and dependents, are vaccinated here at Yokota, Bassett said. That means less than half of the Yokota's civilian population is protected from the flu.
The 374th Medical Group expresses their concern and encourages civilians and dependents to get vaccinated for the flu.
"The Tokyo Metropolitan region is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of influenza cases similar to the previous season," Bassett says. The flu activity most commonly peaks in Japan during the months of February and March, and as of Jan. 27, there's a slight increase in flu cases at Yokota.
But Yokota does not expect to see a similar increase, and the chances of a significant flu impact will decrease with more people getting vaccinated, said Tech. Sgt. Nigesa Scales, the section chief of community health.
"The greater the number of people vaccinated against the influenza, the lower the risk of spreading the flu, and the greater the decrease in the severity of the illness if people do get it," Scales said.
Besides decreasing the severity and chance of spreading the flu, there is another important reason to get vaccinated.
"Influenza can be life threatening in certain populations, especially: infants, elderly, pregnant mothers, and people with chronic illness," Scales said. "So, even healthy people should be vaccinated to decrease the risk of spreading influenza to these higher risk populations."
But is vaccination alone strong enough to completely keep Yokota safe from the flu?
The vaccine will not protect us from the flu 100 percent, but that's no reason to not get the vaccine, Bassett said.
"This year's flu shot protects against the three most common flu viruses circulating the globe and is 62 percent effective," Bassett says. "This means that 38 percent of the people who get the vaccine could still get the flu, but may experience milder symptoms, less need for medication, fewer days off from work and a lower chance of hospitalization."
This means everyone needs to exercise preventative measures to protect themselves and others from the flu.
"A sneeze carrying the flu virus can travel greater than six feet," Scales says. "Sneezing or coughing into your sleeve or elbow, and washing your hands often with soap and water can help reduce the spread of flu. Hand sanitizers can be effective if soap and water are not available."
Scales also suggests maintaining distance from others while sick as a good method to prevent the flu from spreading. "Staying home if you are sick is important to stop the spread of the infection," Scales added.
As for children with the fear of needles; the immunization center has a less frightening method of vaccination, the flu mist, Bassett said. Although very convenient, the flu mist is only available to healthy children age 3 to 8.
Being ill can be miserable, and a burden to the patient and those around him or her. Even one person infected with the flu can be a hindrance to the mission here at Yokota.
"Influenza can last up to ten days," Scales said. "That can be 80 - 100 work hours lost if just one individual is unable to work."
"Get vaccinated today," Bassett suggested. No appointment is needed; the immunization clinic offers walk-in service Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Visit the 374 MDG website at www.facebook.com/374MDG for more information.