STANISLAUS COUNTY -- Health officials said Friday that the seasonal flu has arrived in Stanislaus County.
They issued another appeal for residents to prepare for a flu season that has taken a toll on vulnerable patients in other states.
Because of lower vaccination rates at flu shot clinics during the fall, county officials still are concerned that residents are not well-prepared.
"The seasonal flu vaccine is an important and safe way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the seasonal flu," said Dr. John Walker, county public health officer. He recommended the vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older.
State health officials said flu activity was widespread in California. An increase in hospitalizations and doctor visits was reported in cities where the flu was taking hold. As of Friday, five deaths were reported.
The emergency department of one Modesto hospital was being hit with a record number of walk-in patients, though few if any of them were sick with flu, a physician said. "I have not seen any flu cases yet," said Dr. Robert Barandica, emergency department director at Doctors Medical Center. "We are waiting for it to hit and, quite honestly, we are having the busiest month we have ever had. We are busting at the seams and it's going to get busier."
Barandica said 289 patients came to the emergency department during a 24-hour period Monday. Most of them had colds or were sick from other types of viruses, he said.
The flu season has raised concern because of an influenza A strain that seems more potent than normal. Officials said seniors, young children and people with chronic conditions are the most vulnerable and are advised to seek medical attention when symptoms arise. Tamiflu and other antiviral medications are most effective if taken within 48 hours of becoming ill.
County public health said this year's flu vaccination offers protection against the current influenza strains. People can check with their primary care doctors and pharmacies for vaccine availability.
Assistance with finding flu vaccine also is available from http://flushot. healthmap.org.
The uninsured and people with Medi-Cal benefits are encouraged to get flu shots at the county immunization clinic at 820 Scenic Drive in Modesto. Medi-Cal, Medicare, Health Plan of San Joaquin and HealthNet Medi-Cal cover the cost. Others are asked to pay $10 per child (6 months or older) or $25 per adult; those unable to pay are not turned away.
In addition to getting flu shots, residents can take precautions against the spread of flu by not touching their eyes, noses or mouths; covering coughs or sneezes with sleeves or tissues; washing hands; and staying home if sick.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
AT A GLANCE
WHEN: Wednesday, 4-7 p.m.
WHERE: Pearson Education Center cafeteria, 500 Locust St.
WHAT: Modesto City Schools and Walgreens will host a flu shot clinic. Vaccines will be available for ages 7 and older. A parent or guardian must be present for minors to be vaccinated.
COST: $25.99 by cash or check if not covered by Medi-Cal and the individual's health insurance. Walgreens will bill for insurance payment. Contact the company to verify coverage. There will be a limited number of vouchers available for low-income individuals without insurance or Medi-Cal coverage.