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The flu season in Europe has yet to peak, and medical officials urge people to get vaccinated before it’s too late.

“That’s one of our issues,” said Dr. (Cmdr.) Walter Dalitsch, occupational health officer in Naples, Italy. “Most Americas figure once the holidays are over, they’re safe. Unfortunately, that’s one of the biggest misconceptions.”

In Europe, peak flu season hits between February and March, and goes clear into May — much later than in the United States, experts say.

Medical officials Europewide report vaccinating between 50 percent and 80 percent of eligible servicemembers, with some commands doing better than others. The vaccine is mandatory for active-duty forces, provided they don’t have any at-risk factors such as pre-existing medical conditions, are pregnant or allergic.

The Army, for example, ordered 80,000 doses, and has vaccinated roughly 60,000 people, of which roughly 38,000 are active duty, said Col. Theresa Moser, chief of the Army’s Health Protection Office. The rest are civilians, dependents and retirees.

In Naples, the Navy has vaccinated roughly 2,000 of its eligible active-duty population of 4,500.

Throughout Europe, servicemembers and families began in October receiving doses of either the injectionable or nasal spray vaccines to fend off influenza, which can make people feverish and achy, suffer from sore throats and runny noses, or have bouts of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. At times, it can be fatal.

Every year in the United States, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the population comes down with the flu; more than 200,000 are hospitalized; and 36,000 people die from the flu and flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far this year, the military community in Europe has had three laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza — none fatal, said Maj. John Maza, chief of epidemiology for the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe. All U.S. military treatment facilities throughout Europe send samples to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for testing.

The reported cases occurred a few weeks later compared to last year, Maza said.

“We may be lagging a bit, but this is not out of the ordinary.”

Last year in Europe, about 300 cases were reported to U.S. Army medical facilities. None was fatal.

Medical experts report there is no shortage in vaccines.

Though getting the vaccine does not guarantee a person won’t come down with the flu, it greatly improves their chances of staying healthy, Dalitsch said.

“Not only is it mandatory for active duty, but we just want people to be safe and healthy.”


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