It's not too late to get a flu shot for the season and options are there for people who worry the cost may be more than they can afford.
The Crow Wing County Community Services Health Division is hosting two Ban the Bug Influenza Vaccination Clinics in December.
With the holidays bringing extended family members and friends together, county health officials note there may be one thing they don't want to share - the flu bug.
The seasonal flu - which is a contagious upper respiratory infection that can be prevented with an annual vaccination - affects an individual's nose, throat and lungs. It's not the stomach variety.
For the last week of November, the influenza report for the state shows the activity remains low. But the season of being indoors for many hours and in close contact with others has arrived. The percentage of patients going to outpatient clinics with influenza-like illnesses did spike recently. And fewer people appear to be getting the flu shot in the area.
"We haven't seen the turnout we'd like to," said Kari Springer, disease prevention and control coordinator for Crow Wing County.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea or have the respiratory symptoms without a fever. Health officials note the illness has the potential to lead to hospitalization and death.
The ways to prevent the spread of influenza are known even to the smallest of children these days - cover the nose and mouth when coughing. And those hand-wash bottles appear on nearly every countertop from businesses to churches. Hand washing is encouraged along with avoiding touching one's eyes, nose or mouth and spreading germs.
To make sure all Minnesotans have the option for a vaccination, the state Department of Health and the Minnesota Coalition for Adult Immunization is encouraging a Ban the Bug clinic in December. The website, www.mdhflu.com, lists clinic locations.
For the first time, the vaccine is recommended not just for high risk groups - the young and old or those with compromised immune systems - but for everyone from 6 months and older.
"We've wanted that for a long time," Springer said.
Margie Young, senior administrative technical specialist, said there were a number of deaths with the flu season but the ages may be surprising - two 7-year-olds, a 37-year-old and a couple of infants. Young said those deaths made health officials look at a need to vaccine across a wide spectrum of ages.
Children younger than 9 who are getting a shot for the first time, will need two doses about 30 days apart.
This year's flu vaccine contains the H1N1 strain, a B strain and a H3 strain not in the 2009-10 vaccine. So health officials say even if people received a flu vaccine last year, getting a seasonal flu shot this year is recommended. Health workers and care givers, especially those in households with infants 6 months or younger, are encouraged to get the vaccine.
For the county, Young and Springer said the goal is not to compete with private businesses. They encourage people to go to their home medical clinics, pharmacies and businesses that provide flu shots - but said they are there to cover the gaps.
They note the present economy and those who may be underinsured with high copays who are deterred from getting a flu shot because of financial means. Young noted seniors who came in for previous vaccines with their co-pay in dollars and change and a desire to put up the cost even if it was a real financial hardship.
Springer said some people continue to be reluctant to get the vaccine, but she said people do not get the flu from the shot and it's rare to get a reaction. She said those who have become ill after a shot were no doubt exposed to the influenza virus before they were vaccinated.
Once people are sick with the influenza, Springer said anti-virals may be prescribed for some, but most will have to nurse themselves through the respiratory illness. With the peak flu season still ahead - between January and April - the county notes there is still time to be vaccinated.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.