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EDITORIAL: Flu season arrives. Are you ready?

The Press Democrat - 1/3/2020

Jan. 3--Peak influenza season hits California in January and February, and this year's season is shaping up to be a doozy. Anyone who doesn't want to wind up bed-ridden, hospitalized or worse ought to get vaccinated immediately.

The state Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control found that the flu was widespread in California. Through Dec. 21, there had already been 46 deaths attributed to the flu, including one in Sonoma County. Just this week, a school-aged child in Placer County died from flu-related complications.

Jetting off isn't a solution, either. The CDC reports that the flu is widespread in 39 states and continuing to spread.

And we're just getting started. The Public Health Department warns that flu activity continues to increase and is at an elevated level in every part of the state.

Put all that together and there's a high chance Californians will be exposed to flu virus sometime in the next couple of months. Fortunately, it's not too late to get your defenses up, starting with a flu shot.

Historically, Californians aren't very good at taking this simple, safe precaution. Barely half of adults 65 and older, one of the most vulnerable populations to the flu, get an immunization. The rate for the general population is even lower.

Among health professionals, who will be exposed to more germs than most, the rate isn't great, either. Last year, 85% of them were vaccinated, but the rate was much lower at some hospitals. It was only 81% across all Sonoma County hospitals and 69% in Napa and Mendocino counties. The Public Health Department has set a target of 90% of health workers vaccinated in 2020, but most hospitals are falling short. Locally, only Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg District Hospital are on track to meet the goal.

California notoriously struggles with vaccination paranoia. That's putting everyone at risk. When so many people don't get an annual flu shot, they become potential carriers who can infect others. That's especially dangerous for high-risk groups like adults 65 and older, pregnant women, young children and people with compromised immune systems. Some of them can't even get a flu shot, so the best hope of remaining healthy through the season is to avoid exposure.

The flu shot is readily available at pharmacies, hospitals and doctor's offices. It's not particularly expensive, and it's free to many people with insurance. It's also safe. There's just no good reason not to get immunized.

The shot is just the start, though. The annual flu vaccine is a best guess at which strains of the virus will be prevalent. It's not guaranteed protection, only much better protection than nothing. People also should take common-sense precautions to mitigate risk. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay at home from school or work when you are sick. Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing. And wash your hands often with soap and water.

The flu virus wants to spread. The best way to stop it is for individuals to protect themselves so that their combined immunity shields the entire community.

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