O'Hare Travelers Bide Time with Flu Shots

Long layovers in airport terminals are a sure bet this time of year. Now, travelers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport can pass the time by getting a flu shot.

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Massage bars, wine bars and free wireless Internet, all sorts of amenities are popping up at airports these days.

Harriet Baskas spotted a new one on a layover at O'Hare.

(Soundbite of airport announcement)

Unidentified Woman #1: Please use information kiosk and taxi starters for approved, safe transport unto the airport.

HARRIET BASKAS: From a distance, it looked weird - a bunch of people, mostly men, huddled around a table in the American Airlines concourse. They were offering up cash or credit cards, taking off their jackets, and then spending a few minutes with a woman behind a screen.

Mr. TODD HUGHES (Traveler): I did this at a mall once and somebody said, how can you do that in a mall?

BASKAS: Forty-eight-year-old Todd Hughes(ph) had a half hour to kill at O'Hare and he coughed up $35 for a flu shot.

Ms. BRENDA LARSON(ph) (Nurse): All right. Very good. Whenever you are ready. Write your name, look at the screen here.

Mr. HUGHES: Oh, yeah. Oh, that was too fast. That was almost too easy.

BASKAS: Hughes hasn't planned on getting his flu shot here, and neither did 57-year-old Tom Barashan(ph). He was waiting for his flight to Orlando.

Mr. TOM BARASHAN (Traveler): This is strictly an impulse thing. I walked by, saw it, figured I'll take a chance, I'm going to go work this trade show, and there's probably 20,000 people I'll be shaking hands and all that jazz, you know, so I'd probably rolled the dice if I didn't see this here.

BASKAS: When it comes to the flu, rolling the dice isn't such a good idea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, 36,000 people die from the flu each year. More than 200,000 end up in the hospital.

Dr. John Zautcke runs the medical clinic at O'Hare Airport. He says travelers on airplanes with all that dry air have a good chance of getting the flu.

Dr. JOHN ZAUTCKE (Medical Director, UIC-O'Hare Medical Clinic): You just got to be careful and hope you're not sitting next to somebody who's really sick because there's really not too much you can do in all circumstances.

BASKAS: Zautcke knows frequent travelers often don't have the time to get flu shots, so he persuaded the airport to let the clinic set up kiosks by the gate.

That's where Dave Skina(ph) squeezed in his vaccine. He was on his way home to Dallas and was hoping to impress his wife.

Mr. DAVE SKINA: I won't bother to tell her that it was just standing in front of me at the airport. It's just a very convenient way to catch it. Look, it's done, while we were talking. Did you even hear me cry in pain?

BASKAS: No, I didn't.

Skina and the dozens of other men and women I saw duck behind that screen all came out smiling. So I got brave, rolled up my sleeve, and let the nurse poke me.

I have to tell you, I'm kind of nervous, even though everyone says it doesn't hurt at all. It did hurt a little.

Ms. LARSON: Oh, you're such a baby.

BASKAS: But now, it's done, right?

Ms. LARSON: It's done.

BASKAS: Okay. Good.

Don't let me scare you. Ten thousand people got flu shots at O'Hare last year, and 25,000 are expected to do it this year. Nurse Brenda Larson says she's never had anyone but me whimper or threatened to faint.

For NPR News, I'm Harriet Baskas.

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