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Stanislaus County braces for early, severe flu season. Two children have died in state.

Infectious-disease experts are predicting an early and more severe flu season this year in Stanislaus County and other areas of the state.

Kaiser Permanente said Friday it opened flu clinics in late September because of earlier-than-normal flu activity.

“We have seen a few cases in the Bay Area already,” said Dr. Piero Garzaro, chief of infectious diseases for Oakland-based Kaiser.

Two children, one in Riverside County and the other in Santa Clara County, died from influenza last month. Health officials said both children were otherwise healthy; the particular strain of influenza has not been identified in the two deaths.

Health experts strongly recommend vaccinations for anyone older than 6 months and especially pregnant women.

Garzaro said the seasonal flu was severe in the Southern Hemisphere, which suggests the same could happen here. In an attempt to predict the severity of flu outbreaks, infectious-disease experts watch what happens with the annual flu seasons that first arrive in Australia and South America.

The Aussies had an early season this year and it was pretty severe.

Early vaccinations are recommended this year because it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to provide protection against the illness.

The flu season in California last year was the longest in 10 years, stretching from October to May, with a second wave hitting in late season, according to Kaiser, which tracks flu activity at its numerous hospitals and clinics.

According to estimates, as many as 60,000 people died last year from the effects of seasonal flu in the United States, and 43 million were sickened. It’s common for flu cases to emerge in October and then reach a peak in December or January. Cases in September are not very common.

Dr. Bill Isenberg, vice president of patient safety for Sacramento-based Sutter Health, said physicians in the state started to see flu cases three or four weeks ago. Patients with the flu are now arriving in Sutter’s emergency departments and urgent care clinics.

“It’s a little early to know how it will be this year,” Isenberg said. But severe outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere, he said, can predict a bad season in the U. S., as in 2017-18, when hospitals in California were flooded with patients and an estimated 80,000 died from influenza in the U.S.

As an obstetrician, Isenberg especially recommends a vaccination for pregnant women. “They are especially vulnerable,” he said. “Their immune systems are ratcheted down. Any infectious agent can give them a hard time.”

Kaiser has weekday flu vaccination clinics for members at:

  • Kaiser Modesto Medical Center, 4601 Dale Road, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. through Dec. 27.
  • Dale Road Medical Offices, 3800 Dale Road, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. through Dec. 27.

  • Bangs Medical Offices, 4125 Bangs Road, 7:30 a.m. -7 p.m.

Sutter Health has flu shot clinics this month at:

  • Internal Medicine Department, 600 Coffee Road, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays; 1:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday.
  • Dale Road Care Center, 3612 Dale Road, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday.

  • Turlock medical office, 3100 W. Christoffersen Parkway, 8 a.m.-noon. Saturdays.

  • Ceres Care Center, 2516 Whitmore Ave., 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday.

  • Patterson Care Center, 801 E St., 8:30 am.-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday.

Sutter has pediatric flu vaccine and high dose vaccine for adults 65 and older upon request. Call 209-550-3900.

The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency will hold community flu clinics for low-income residents at:

  • Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter, 2-4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Ceres Unified School District, 2491 Lawrence St., Room 2, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 16, Nov. 6, Nov. 13.

  • Modesto Farmers Market, 16th Street, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 17, Oct. 19, Oct. 24.

  • Saint Stanislaus Church, 1200 Maze Blvd., 11:30-3:30 p.m. Oct. 20.

  • Keyes Elementary School, 4400 Maud Ave., 2 p.m.- 5 p.m., Oct. 22.

  • Newman Health & Wellness Fair, 901 Hoyer Road, noon-4 p.m., Oct. 23.

  • Sisk Elementary School, 5337 Sugar Creek Lane, Salida, 2 p.m-5 p.m. Oct. 30.

Walk-ins are accepted at the county immunization clinic, 820 Scenic Drive, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays.

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.
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