Flu season is here and health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated, citing severe cases in other parts of the world.

Homer Rice, Yuba County Health and Human Services Department’s deputy director of public health, said countries in the southern hemisphere, including Australia, are used as a marker for how the influenza will impact people in the United States.

“We can’t predict what it will really be like here but we know there were about 280,000 cases of influenza in Australia and some people were very sick,” Rice said. “Some of the same strains will come here so we use a similar vaccine.”

Hank Cullers, Adventist Health/Rideout director of infection prevention, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the southern hemisphere to predict what the flu will be like in the northern hemisphere because their flu season arrives earlier.

“The CDC and other authorities will take a look at what the flu season looked like in the southern hemisphere and Australia had a pretty severe season,” Cullers said. “They are only predictions so we won’t know exactly how it will impact us until we see how many cases are reported.”

Cullers, a registered nurse, said the California Department of Public Health will release weekly reports on the number of flu cases as the season progresses to keep officials informed.

Rice and Cullers said flu season has started here already and it runs through the early to mid-part of 2020, but the vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective so they suggest getting the flu shot sooner, rather than later.

“We gave about 100 flu shots to people at the market on Sunday and about 45 people got them on Monday at the Yuba County Government Center,” Rice said. “We don’t do too many clinics because they’re all over. It’s covered under preventive care and people can get it almost anywhere for free.”

Cullers and Rice said the vaccine is the best way to minimize the risk of getting the flu.

“Even if they get the vaccine and they do get the flu from another strain, the vaccine will make it so that the symptoms will be less severe and they will recover faster,” Cullers said.

Both said that children 6 moths and older can get the vaccine and that people who are 65 or older, pregnant women, those with immune system issues and underlying respiratory issues should get the vaccine and take extra care to maintain overall health and wellness.

“The biggest thing is prevention – wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face because it can spread from your hands, and disinfect you home frequently,” Cullers said. “Also, basic, general health is very important. Eat healthy food, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.”

Rice said they also offered flu shots to Health and Human Services Department employees on Monday and encouraged employers to allow time for employees to get vaccinated.

“Employers should think about the fact that it’s better to give employees an hour off to get the flu vaccine versus a few day or week off if they get sick,” Rice said. “This year, there is a nasal mist option for the flu vaccine, which can work better for children.”

Where to get a flu shot: www.vaccinefinder.org.

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