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Health officials recommend people get vaccinated during early fall to help prevent illness

There was a time in the recent past when people did not need to worry much about the flu until the winter months arrived.

These days, that is not the case. Now, because current strains start to show up in the early fall, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people get vaccinated and protected from the illness by late September or early October.

"We have been seeing a trend of it coming a little bit earlier," said Anita Ogden, Crook County Health Department's immunization coordinator. "We see it peak by early November."

For this reason, people can now get the flu vaccine at the health department or at local pharmacies or from primary care providers. The vaccine is recommended for any person older than six months, and Ogden points out that children younger than 2 years old and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the illness and should get protected. Other groups at greater risk for contracting the flu include people with chronic respiratory illnesses and pregnant women.

The vaccines have arrived locally a bit ahead of schedule. Ogden said the health department had targeted the beginning of October to start offering them because some uncertainty lingered as to when they would actually be available.

"But we are up and running and available as of this week," she remarked.

The health department is providing flu shots to anybody age 19 and older for free if their insurance covers the vaccination and charges $30 for those who lack insurance.

"Anybody younger than the age of 19 can come get a flu shot, and it will be covered by the Vaccines for Children program — a government-funded program," Ogden said.

In addition, this year, those who prefer not to deal with a needle may have the option of receiving the flu vaccine via nasal mist.

"The nasal flu vaccine is live so it is not recommended for pregnant individuals, but can be given to those ages 2 to 49," Ogden said.

She went on to point out that most people with egg allergies can now receive the vaccine. Historically, people with such an allergy were either recommended to avoid vaccination or wait until a half-hour after it was administered to leave, in case they had a severe reaction.

"That has actually changed this year," Ogden stated. "If anybody does have an egg allergy, it is appropriate and OK for them to get the flu shot."

The reason for the change, she said, is that recent studies have determined there is a minimal chance that people with egg allergies will have a severe reaction to the vaccines, despite the fact they are made through an egg-based manufacturing process.

This season's quadrivalent flu vaccine is expected to protect people who receive it from four of the most prevalent strains, although there is always the possibility to still contract the illness.

"You can never predict what the flu season will be like," Ogden said, basing that assessment on what the CDC has had to say about the illness. "The difficult thing is the flu is always evolving and ever-changing, so the strains could change during the flu season."

Consequently, health officials urge people to exercise good hygiene habits like washing their hands regularly or covering their cough. Also, people who contract the flu or have flu symptoms such as a high fever, should stay home and away from public places.

"Be smart about where you are and what you are doing," Ogden said.

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