DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - December 28, 2007

Diablo Views: Fight flu before flight

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Have you heard that flu shots are being offered in major airports? Well, it's the least they can do. The hapless passengers are about to spend hours in a closed environment where the same air circulates over and over, picking up germs from the coughs and sneezes of passengers and crew. There's a reason Airborne sells so well at airport shops.

At first the shots were available before the security checks and people were afraid to stop and get inoculated because they might miss their flights. So San Francisco and other major airports moved the flu shot stations closer to the gates, where the only thing left for passengers to do is wait for the announcement to board. Success! The health stations had inoculated 15,000 travelers this season at SFO, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Newark, Associated Press reported last week. O'Hare and Midway had vaccinated another 9,500 travelers.

I called the SFO Medical Clinic to make sure the shots are still being offered and received several surprises. First surprise: An actual person answered the phone and quickly called nurse manager Carol Schjaerve to answer my questions. Second, the very friendly Carol told me that not only are flu shots available, the cost has gone down to $15. Plus! The clinic not only gives flu shots but also inoculates against hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid and more. The clinic, which is now part of St. Mary's Medical Center, has been offering this service for the 30 years she's been on board, Carol said. She also noted some people aren't getting inoculated right now because they don't want the side effects at Christmastime.

But what a great use of that dead time for passengers before they actually get onto the airplane. Many travelers have a long period of waiting before they board because they leave their homes or hotel allowing plenty of time for traffic jams, flat tires, missed turnoffs and other inconveniences. This dead time is used these days to catch up on telephone calls and to get work done on laptops. I think of this time as a bonus and like to use it for reading, just like when waiting for the doctor. (A good book is a guarantee that no one will keep you waiting - which is both good and bad.)

But it must be noted: The gate-side flu inoculations do not help prevent anyone from catching the flu on that particular flight; it takes two weeks for the antibodies to develop and give protection against the influenza virus infection. This is why the best time to get a flu shot is in October or November, before the flu season begins. And that is when flu shots are most convenient as they are offered all over the place, even at drive-through locations.

I got my first flu shot a few years ago. I'd never bothered before, figuring if I denied the flu was around, I would be protected from it. But that year my husband, daughter and I were going to Berlin to see my son for Christmas. After spending a lot of money on the trip, we weren't about to spend it in bed - even the very nice hotel bed. The shots worked, I'm happy to report; none of us got sick. Since that entire winter was such a healthy one for my family, I was a convert, first in line at the Kaiser station for flu shots. I admit this year I was remiss. Where does time go when you want to get a flu shot?

I'm too late, I was telling myself recently. I'm past the deadline to get a flu shot for this year. I wasn't totally saddened by this thought because, really, who wants to get a shot? But then, guess what? Another report came out stating it's not too late to get a flu shot in December or even January because, contrary to popular belief, the season can last into May. There is a reason this belief is so popular. Shots hurt. OK, they don't hurt a lot but who even wants to bare an arm in this cold weather?

Carol, my new friend at the airport, verified that the flu season peaks in February. Maybe I'll just have to book a flight somewhere. Somewhere warm.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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