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Clinics across the country had to turn away countless patients clamoring for a flu vaccine last year -- a situation that will not be repeated this flu season, according to health-care professionals.

And Penn's Student Health Service officials say they will be fully prepared for the upcoming flu season. The clinic places orders for the flu vaccine on the very first day they are accepted.

Indeed, SHS had enough vaccines last year to help out the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania during the shortage.

Last year, Chiron Corp., one of only two companies making the injectable vaccine at the time, sparked the shortage when its British plant was closed down due to contamination concerns.

This year, the plant is up and running, and the company expects to ship 18 to 26 million vaccines to the U.S. Chiron will be joined by Glaxo Smith-Kline Inc. in manufacturing vaccines.

According to Chiron spokeswoman Alison Marquiss, the company is awaiting final approval and expects to ship vaccines in late September or early October.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Lola Russell said that between 71 and 97 million vaccines will be available, including 8 million non-injectable, live, attenuated nasal-spray vaccines.

First-year dental student Dawna Kowalski plans to use the nasal spray, which will be offered by SHS.

SHS Director Evelyn Wiener said that the spray will cost about $10 more than the injectable vaccine.

Though the current order was placed in March, SHS is still awaiting shipment and expects to begin immunization in October.

SHS is expecting a slight increase in the number of vaccinations this year. Priority will be given to individuals who are at an increased risk of getting the flu -- such as health-care workers -- as well as those whose medical condition may worsen as a result of contracting the flu. The latter category includes people with heart or lung disease.

Wiener said that non-prioritized vaccination will not occur until Oct. 24, in keeping with CDC recommendations.

According to the CDC, the flu -- caused by the influenza virus -- affects between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population each year. Responsible for 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually, its season can last from October to May.

The best prevention, according to the CDC and health professionals, is to get vaccinated.

College junior Amy Shilane "thinks of unpleasant things" when it comes to the flu.

"Last year there was a shortage. ... I thought it was better that older people have" the flu vaccine, Shilane said, explaining why she did not get a vaccination last year. As a result, she caught the flu and missed several classes.

She plans to get vaccinated this fall.

Peter Palese, chairman of microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that the flu is a combination of three influenza subtypes. The vaccine is a combination vaccine directed at these subtypes.

Small changes in the outside coat of the virus that make it less susceptible to the vaccine make it necessary to create new vaccines annually.

Palese said that significant changes in the coat of the virus are the cause of severe outbreaks of the flu, such as occurred in 1968. Vaccines, in this case, would be useless, since the virus has mutated so that it is not recognized by the vaccine-induced immunity.

Flu 101

- Two major virus types: A (2 subtypes) and B; the C type does not cause epidemics - Season: Can last from October to May - Symptoms: Headaches, weakness, muscle and body aches and fever - Duration: 7 to 14 days - Treatment: Rest and drink plenty of fluids. Anti-viral medication can speed up the recovery and lessen the severity of symptoms - Complications: Lost productivity, pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections. - Number of U.S. deaths annually: 36,000. Source: Center for Disease Control, Student Health Services

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