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Consider getting flu shot now

Flu cases are on the rise in Denton County and across the state, health officials tell us, and we urge those who haven’t had a flu shot this year to consider getting one at the first opportunity.

Once a shot is administered, it could take about two weeks before it is effective. That means there’s no time to waste, so if you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to roll up your sleeve.

Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for the Denton County Health Department, said there’s been an increase in positive flu test results reported voluntarily by county hospitals, schools and emergency rooms in recent weeks.

There have been no flu-related deaths in Denton County, but the virulent H1N1 form of the illness claimed the life of a Houston teenager and 12 others in the Houston area.

What this tells us is that everyone — no matter their age — needs to take heed. Parents should prompt their teenage and young adult children to get flu shots, too.

Influenza can be a serious illness and can lead to complications up to and including death.

The state doesn’t keep a tally of adult deaths, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Texas as one of six states with “high” activity of influenza-like illnesses.

“It’s been picking up the last couple weeks,” said Juan Rodriguez, chief epidemiologist for the county health department. “We’re starting to see an increase in activity, and it’s definitely going to continue for several weeks to come.”

Of the Denton County cases reported, about 95 percent have been “flu A,” which is H1N1, also known as swine flu, Rodriguez said.

The vaccine the county is using this year is “a very good match” for the circulating flu strains, he said.

Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said officials are seeing high levels of influenza in every region of the state.

In addition to being vaccinated, there are other steps that everyone can take to help prevent the spread of the flu. The county health department advises residents to:

* Wash hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hands can’t be washed.

* Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.

* Cover mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing. People are encouraged to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crease of their elbow.

* Stay home and avoid public places when feeling sick.

* Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

* Practice good health habits.

These and other common-sense precautions can help, but health department officials emphasize that a flu shot is still the best way to prevent or lessen the severity of the flu.

“We still have plenty of vaccine, but I would say if you haven’t already received your shot ... definitely come in and get it,” McKinney said. “It’s definitely not too late.”

Officials with the health department urge people to call the clinic first to check on the wait time.

We know you’ve been busy, but now that the holiday rush is over, why not think about getting that flu shot?

Rodriguez said seasonal flu runs from October to May and that the county typically sees a peak in late January and through February.

Taking a flu shot now — and urging your loved ones to do the same — is a great investment in your health and the welfare of those around you.