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Fearful of Flu Outbreak Reports, Thousands Line Up for Vaccine

Posted - Dec. 6, 2003 at 9:20 a.m.



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Wichitans lined up in parking lots and at medical offices Thursday, getting flu shots to defend themselves against the influenza making its way through the United States.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 10 states, most of them in the West, are dealing with "widespread" flu outbreaks.

Kansas isn't one of the states, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said reports of flu are increasing in all parts of the state. Flu isn't a disease that has to be reported to the health department, but KDHE gets general reports on it from doctors and hospitals throughout the state.

In Wichita, representatives of the Sedgwick County Health Department, the Wichita Clinic and Home Healthcare Connection all said they had been busy giving flu shots and still had plenty of vaccine for anyone who wanted a shot.

The Health Department has given about 12,000 flu shots already this year and has enough vaccine on hand to give 4,000 more, a spokeswoman said. In addition, the department's supplier has said more can be available in a day.

Home Healthcare Connection, which has been giving flu shots since the beginning of October, set up a flu shot "drive through" in its parking lot Wednesday and drew a steady line of customers.

Several said news reports in recent days had convinced them to act.

"I wasn't scared till all the news came out," said John Ashworth, who had received only one flu shot in his life before Thursday.

Sara Smith was there with her four children, and everyone but her got a shot.

"I just learned how bad the flu is this year and, being pregnant, I didn't want to deal with all these sick kids," she said.

She wanted a shot, too, but Home Healthcare Connection employees asked her to get a doctor's note first. Pregnant women in their second or third trimester during flu season are among those for whom flu shots are recommended.

Many in line were like Clarence Johnson, 84, saying they get shots every year. Johnson was there because he couldn't get an appointment with his doctor until sometime next week and didn't want to wait that long.

Hospitals continued to be busier than usual, though Wesley Medical Center spokeswoman Helen Thomas said that fewer than 200 patients had been through the emergency room on Wednesday, the lowest number since Thanksgiving. She expected patient visits to increase again over the weekend, when most doctors' offices are closed.

Roz Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for Via Christi Regional Medical Center, said that beds at the St. Francis Campus were about 95 percent filled and that its emergency room continued to be busy.

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(c) 2003, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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