Flu season is upon us and while it may seem as though the flu season never went away with H1N1 affecting much of the U.S. this year, the regular influenza season starts this month and runs through May.
Medical experts agree this is a vital time frame to get vaccinated from the various strains of seasonal influenza, but while vaccination helps mitigate flu symptoms, experts say prevention is the most important thing individuals can do to avoid catching the flu.
This means avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing, and not touching your face with unwashed hands, according to Col. Neal Taylor, 75th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander.
It may also mean staying home if you have fever and cold-like symptoms.
"If people have a fever and flu symptoms they should stay home until 24 hours after the fever subsides," Taylor said. "If someone has high-risk medical problems and feels they have the flu, they should visit their physician.
Active duty and civilians who stay home sick with the flu are also asked to inform their supervisor of their illness so command officials can track the rate of incidence.
When, where is flu vaccine available?
The seasonal flu vaccine is currently available at the Hill clinic, as well as at off-base health care agencies; however, the 75th Medical Group is prioritizing the vaccine as it comes in.
On base, all health care employees — military and civilian — are currently receiving their flu shots, Taylor said.
Active duty inoculation has also begun and once 80 percent of Hill's active duty have been immunized, the vaccine will be offered to the rest of the beneficiary population as supplies are available.
Can the vaccine be obtained off base?
Influenza vaccinations are a covered benefit for Tricare Standard, Extra and Prime beneficiaries. For Standard and Extra beneficiaries, cost-shares and deductible apply.
Beneficiaries who receive the service off base from another physician's office or health care facility may need to file a DD Form 2642 for reimbursement of out-of pocket expenses.
Vaccinations obtained from a nonnetwork provider such as Walmart, Shopko or Walgreens are subject to point-of-service charges, which means Standard or Extra beneficiaries pay out of pocket for the flu vaccine and will be ineligible for reimbursement.
Will the regular flu vaccine protect me from H1N1?
Regular flu vaccine will not provide protection from H1N1, Taylor said.
Immunization manufacturers developed a two-shot immunization for H1N1 that should be available in late Fall 2009; however, it will only be given to military members at the Hill clinic.
Dependents, military retirees and civilian employees can receive the vaccine from a local health department as supplies are available.
Questions concerning future times and availability of the flu vaccine can be directed to the 75th MDG Immunizations Clinic at 777-5209.
Questions regarding Tricare benefits for off-base sources can be directed to Triwest at (888) 874-9378 or www.triwest.com.
Rich Essary, 75th Public Affairs Office, contributed material to this article.