NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Medical Department aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) began administering influenza (flu) vaccinations, Oct. 22, marking the start of the ship’s flu season preparations.
Flu is a communicable disease that spreads in the United States annually, between Oct. and May. To fight its spread, Medical Department performs their largest annual evolution by vaccinating the entire Abraham Lincoln crew.
“Colds and flu often share similar symptoms, but flu symptoms tend to be more severe,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Brandon Schram. “Flu is normally accompanied by fever, unlike colds.”
Minor flu symptoms can include chills, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and stuffy or runny nose. The virus affects everyone differently, and it can cause pneumonia and blood infections in certain individuals.
Flu outbreaks negatively affect mission readiness, so the Department of Defense (DOD) orders more than 3 million vaccine doses annually. Vaccination is mandatory for all active-duty personnel and reservists; the DOD’s goal is to vaccinate more than 90 percent of the service by Jan. 15.
Medical Department’s Preventive Health Division recommends Sailors get their families vaccinated as well. Children between 6 months and 8 years old may require two doses during the same flu season.
“Flu usually affects the elderly and young children more severely, as they tend to have weaker immune systems,” said Lt. Andrea Ochab, a primary care physician aboard the ship. “Over 80,000 people died from flu last year in the United States. These two groups are the most at risk.”
Abraham Lincoln only administers flu shots to shipboard personnel. Families can contact their primary care providers to schedule flu shots, but some pharmacies in the Hampton Roads area also accept Tricare.
“It doesn’t matter where someone gets their flu shot,” Schram said. “The important thing is to get immunized.”
Each year, scientists at the World Health Organization study laboratory samples to determine which flu strains might be prevalent the following year, and those strains are used to make flu vaccines. The 2018 vaccine prevents fours strains, but service members could still be vulnerable to other strains of the virus.
“If that happens, symptoms will still be alleviated and the severity of the virus would be reduced because of exposure to the flu shot,” said Schram.
However, vaccination efforts by the ship’s medical department are only a piece of staying healthy. Sailors must regularly wash their hands, clean communal surfaces, clean their racks and wash their uniforms to prevent the spread of infection.
“Wash your hands with soap and water,” said Ochab. “This includes your palms, the top of your hands and in between fingers. Hand sanitizers are convenient but are typically anti-bacterial, so normally they don’t work against viruses like flu.”
With flu season underway, Medical Department is focusing its efforts on vaccinating the crew quickly and efficiently to ensure healthy Sailors are ready to answer the nation’s call.
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