Local health officials recommend everyone 6 months of age and older to get the seasonal influenza vaccination -- and to get it early.
Richard Rios, manager of Community Health Services with the Merced County Department of Public Health, said getting vaccinated is the best preventive step against getting infected with the flu and preventing several illnesses, even death.
"Everyone is at risk of catching the flu," he said. However, those with underlying health conditions have higher chances of developing severe illnesses.
Rios said most health experts expect the H1N1 strain to continue to circulate during the 2010-11 flu season, but this year's vaccine will protect against it, as well as two other strains, H3N2 and Influenza B.
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The public health department has already received a substantial supply of doses for this season. Rios said one new wrinkle this year is that people will only have to get one vaccination instead of two, as was the case last year. "This will be less confusing for the public," he said.
The vaccination is available in both nasal spray and injection.
Rios said the health department will sponsor flu clinics as it has done in the past, and vaccinations also will be provided during general clinic hours. Experts recommend that people contact their general medical providers first to find out whether they offer the vaccine.
The health department will include an administrative fee on this year's flu vaccination service. People with health insurance won't be required to make a copayment. The fee will be billed to their insurance company.
Greg Spurgeon, assistant director at UC Merced Student Health Services, said the center is still waiting to receive the 800 flu dozes it ordered for this year's season, which should be arriving soon.
Spurgeon said the number of flu vaccinations ordered has been gradually increasing over the years. Last year, the center ordered 600 doses, but it only received 300.
The vaccinations are free for students and $10 for staff and faculty. Spurgeon said officials recommend that students get the vaccine.
Rios said the number of children and young adults who were hospitalized last year as a result of the flu was higher than in previous years.
People are encouraged to visit the local health department's flu information website at www.co.merced.ca.us/flu for flu clinic schedules, links to other locations offering vaccination and general information about the flu, Rios said.
"We will be working with local health providers in the community to conduct surveillance monitoring levels of hospitalized cases locally," he said.
Officials also will collect samples from people to have them tested to obtain accurate information from flu related illnesses in the area.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.