Vaccinations encouraged as flu season ramps up

In this photo illustration, Kelsi Begunich gets a flu shot from physician assistant Danielle Pelton at AFC Urgent Care on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 in Hixson, Tenn.

The number of people seeking medical treatment for influenza-like illnesses spiked in the latest flu report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Georgia and Alabama seeing moderate flu activity and Tennessee experiencing minimal activity.

As flu season ramps up, public health officials are encouraging everyone 6 months and older to get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible.

"Now is definitely the time to go and get your vaccine if you haven't already, because we are seeing flu, and we know that it's going to take your body about two weeks to produce measurable antibodies to truly protect you," said Sharon Goforth, special projects supervisor at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

While everyone is at risk of contracting the virus, pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with medical conditions are more likely to experience severe complications from the illness, such as hospitalization and, in rare cases, death. Those who come into contact with these groups should remember that protection from the vaccine goes beyond the individual, Goforth said.

"If you don't even want to think about it as the prospect that you're protecting yourself, think about it more that you're protecting everyone around you," she said. "It's not just you. It's everyone that you potentially come into contact with during that flu season and it's as simple as getting a shot."

Kelsi Begunich, who works as a medical assistant in Ooltewah, said she hadn't received a flu shot in several years, but went to the American Family Care Urgent Care clinic in Hixson on Friday for a vaccination.

"I just decided to get one, since I'm in the medical field as well, and I decided I should protect myself," she said. "I'm around so much stuff."

Physician assistant Danielle Pelton, who administered Begunich's shot, said she has just started seeing an influx of flu patients this week.

"We didn't see any before, and then the last few days I've seen four people," Pelton said. "I think flu season is just about to start, and there will be more in January and February."

Aside from getting vaccinated, avoiding contact with infectious people and frequent handwashing are the best tactics to ward off the virus.

Influenza is a viral infection known to cause high fever, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, cough, congestion and headaches, among other possible symptoms. Those experiencing flu-like symptoms should immediately contact their medical provider, who can conduct a flu test and prescribe antiviral medication to lessen the severity of the illness.

The Tennessee Department of Health issued a statement on Tuesday reminding those planning to travel and spend time with family over the holidays to take precautions, since the virus' ability to spread is greater in densely populated groups.

"We want to protect our family, friends and community from illness during this special time of year and throughout the winter months when the risk for influenza is typically the greatest," said department Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. "The influenza vaccine is still proven to be the best protection we have against the flu, and I urge everyone six months and older to get a flu shot now."

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.