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Public health departments across the state and the nation, including Chaffee Public Health, are issuing a request that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccination this year, ideally before the end of October. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.

“Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. The influenza virus is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs,” said Chaffee County Public Health Nurse Sandra Morgan. “The flu can be mild to severe, and at times even lead to death.”

Chaffee County Public Health has already held several community-wide and group-specific flu vaccine clinics and has expanded its hours to meet the needs of the county. It recommends that all pregnant women get a flu shot. It has arranged a public health nurse who can provide in-home flu vaccines for those who have a hard time getting out of the house. Other vaccine providers include Walmart, Safeway, and Buena Vista Drug.

“We don’t know how serious flu season will be,” said Colorado Communicable Disease Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “We do know that getting the flu can keep you out of work or school or put you in the hospital. Getting a flu shot every year can prevent that, or lessen the severity if you do become ill.”

The U.S. warning comes on the heels of recent experience in the southern hemisphere, which has just finished its winter season. It saw higher than average cases, with more serious infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The past two flu seasons in the U.S. have been unpredictable.

In the 2017-2018 season, more Coloradans than ever were hospitalized with flu — 4,650. That number dropped to 3,825 in 2018-2019, a more typical flu season. Public health says that flu cases start to increase in October. They typically peak in late December or early January, before dropping off in the spring. Last season, there were 84 outbreaks associated with flu in long-term care facilities, and three children died.

“Every year, flu vaccines are updated to best match circulating flu viruses,” said Immunization Branch Manager Lynn Trefren, at the state health department. “We recommend any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine, including the nasal spray vaccine, which is back this year. Remember, a yearly vaccine can keep you and others from getting sick, can make the illness milder if you do get sick, and can keep you out of the hospital.”

“While healthy people normally recover from the flu, getting a shot keeps you from spreading the virus to people 65 and older, children under five, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions,” said Herlihy. “And since babies under 6 months can’t get the vaccine, it’s up to us all to protect them.”