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Chills and fever.

Runny nose, achiness and overall misery.

Welcome to flu season.

State and local health officials are urging Mon Valley residents, especially seniors, to obtain flu vaccinations this year.

Even though the past few flu seasons have been relatively mild, state Department of Health spokesperson Richard McGarvey said it shouldn’t be taken lightly this year.

“Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict just how bad the flu season will be,” McGarvey said.

But there’s reason enough to receive flu vaccinations, as the disease kills, on average, 36,000 Americans each year, hospitalizes 114,000 and infects up to 20 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roughly 70 million people receive flu vaccinations every year, less than half the number urged to do so.

On the encouraging side, last year’s manufacturing shortfall, which left many hospitals and clinics short of vaccine, appears to be solved.

The CDC says there are plenty – 85.5 million doses of the vaccine – that will become available in early October.

Monongahela Valley Hospital’s director of emergency medical services, Dr. Andrew C. Allison, says those in the high-risk category should especially heed warnings.

“Flu season is a winter-type period that is dominant from late October or early November until the spring,” Allison said. “And influenza can strike youngsters just as often as it does adults and seniors.

People at highest risk comprise those 50 and older, those with chronic medical conditions, nursing home and long-term care residents, women at greater than three months pregnant during flu season and children on long-term aspirin therapy.

McGarvey said new research has shown that healthy toddlers are also candidates for the vaccine, as studies have shown they have trouble fighting influenza.

McGarvey said healthcare workers also fit into the high-risk group.

To date, no flu vaccine clinics have been scheduled, but the state health department office at the Mon Valley Community Health Center in Monessen has received inquiries.

“A lot of older people from the Mon Valley have been calling to find out when they can come in,” said George Kruckvich, a community health nurse who travels to various state health clinics.

Kruckovich said the flu clinics were busy last year.

“On one day last year, we gave at least 150 shots,” Kruckovich said.

There is good news for those who want the vaccine, but don’t like the needle.

A new nasal spray, FluMist, will be available this year. It is uncertain, however, whether it will be available at local hospitals and clinics.

The nasal spray could cost twice as much as shots.

A flu shot costs $10 to $15. The new nasal spray vaccine, made with a live weakened virus, costs $46 a dose wholesale. Doctors could add another $10 to the price.

Medicare covers the cost of flu shots, but most people will pay for the vaccine.

But whether it’s a shot or a squirt, obtaining the vaccine is important, Allison said.

“The influenza vaccine does work,” Allison said. “Overall, the vaccine has been shown to decrease hospitalizations and deaths due to influenza and decreases the severity of infections … .”

Allison said it is important for people to get flu shots annually, because immunity can only last a few months and the strain of the virus changes every year.

In addition to the flu vaccine, Allison said it also is important to obtain pneumonia shots, which can be administered at the same time as flu shots.

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