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January 14, 2013

2013 flu season early, fierce

JACKSONVILLE — This year's flu season is supposed to be the worst on record in years, officials say, but local entities are taking steps to help prevent - and reduce - the outbreak in Cherokee County.

In an attempt to help curb a rising flu problem, Cherokee County Public Health is offering discounted flu shots during a Jan. 24 clinic at its 520 E. Commerce offices in Jacksonville.

The clinic is from 7 a.m.-6 p.m., with a one-hour noon lunch break.

“The flu is bad this year,” said executive director Chris Taylor. “It's worse than it's been in the last five years, so we're offering a half-price immunization to people (who donate a canned food item to H.O.P.E.) in an attempt to get as many people vaccinated at possible.”

The cost for children with private insurance and for adults is $9 and a canned good, while children who qualify for the Texas Vaccines for Children program pay only $7.

There is no charge for children with CHIPS or Medicaid, nor for adults with Medicare Part B. However, both children and adults must bring program cards, and adults also must provide photo ID and supplemental insurance.

The national Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B viruses have all been identified in the U.S. this season, according to its website, http://www.cdc.gov.

According to data compiled for the week of Dec. 23-29, 2012, influenza activity continued to increase throughout the country, 29 states – including Texas – “experiencing high levels of influenza-like illness.”

During that same reporting period, the CDC reported 2,257 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations throughout the country since Oct. 1, 2012, the site stated.

The Trinity Mother Frances emergency room and the Trinity Clinic are busy seeing patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms, said Public Information Officer John Moore.

He confirmed both locations do  have flu vaccines available, although they are low on the version recommended for children under 18 years old.

"It's not to late to get your vaccine," Moore stressed. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get it."

Taylor said there are confirmed cases of influenza in Cherokee County, but the biggest concentration of the flu appears to be located west of the county.

“It's bad,” he said. “We're encouraging everyone to get their shot, and they can get it with us if their doctor's office is busy or don't have the vaccine.”

Moore said that if you are experiencing an upper respiratory infection, try going to your primary care physician or a direct care facility first.

"The sickest of the sick people are in the ER," he said. "We will be glad to help you, that's what we're here for, but do try your primary care provider first."

And of course, if you are having a true emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room.

Taylor also pointed out that the illness alone isn't what is worrisome, but those pre-existing conditions some patients have that can make it deadly.

“It's the co-morbidities (like) asthma, or heart conditions … if you've got a compromised immune system, your body might not be able to handle (something like the flu),” he said.

The Cherokee County Public Health Department's Facebook page offers precautions to help reduce risk of catching or spreading flu germs, courtesy of the Texas Department of State Health Services:

– Wash your hands before eating, or touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

– Wash your hands after touching anyone who is sneezing, coughing or has a runny nose. This is true especially if you are taking care of someone who is sick.

– Do not share towels, lipstick, toys, cigarettes, food, eating utensils, drinking glasses or anything that might be contaminated with respiratory germs.

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and avoid close, crowded spaces when possible.

– Cover your mouth and nose with tissue every time you sneeze, blow your nose, or cough. Do not use handkerchiefs.

– Put used tissues in the nearest trashcan; if you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.

– Stay home if you have a cough and fever. Keep away from family members who are very young, very old, or have a serious disease or weak immune system.

– Because cold viruses can survive for hours outside the body, cleaning surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant (such as a one part bleach to nine parts water mixture) can help prevent the spread of common germs.

For more information about the Jan. 24 clinic, contact Public Health at 903-586-6191.

Editor Amy Brocato Pearson contributed to this report.

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