It's flu season and public health officials are reminding Alameda County residents to get vaccinated, for their own health and well-being and for that of the entire community.
The flu vaccine is a crucial tool in protecting people's health, along with preventing the spread of the virus, and to help encourage locals to get vaccinated, the Alameda County Public Health Department is offering flu shots at certain locations throughout the county.
"Vaccination not only reduces the risk of catching the flu, it also decreases the severity of flu illness and lowers the chance that you'll be hospitalized," said Amy Pine, the department's immunization director. "The flu vaccine is the best protection we have along with other general good health habits."
Flu strains change over the years, which is why receiving an annual vaccine is so important, health officials said, adding that the virus hospitalizes hundreds of thousands and kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.
Symptoms vary by person, but may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. In the majority of cases, those experiencing symptoms do not need to visit the emergency room, but should call a doctor if they have additional concerns, particularly if they have difficulty breathing or are dehydrated or confused.
Certain vulnerable groups should be especially wary of the flu, as they have a higher risk of experiencing additional complications, health officials said. These groups include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, asthma, diabetes or neurological disorders -- people who fall into one of these categories should immediately call their healthcare provider if they have flu symptoms.
Anyone who is very sick, however, regardless of age and overall health status, should go to the emergency room for treatment, health officials said.
The public health department is offering flu immunization clinics in select Alameda County locations, specifically for low-income children who are uninsured, are eligible for or enrolled in CHDP/Medi-Cal or are American Indian/Alaskan native, and for low-income adults who have no health insurance or whose insurance does not cover immunizations.
So far, the clinics offered are located in Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward and Oakland, but more may be added. To see where these clinics are located, visit www.acphd.org.
Vaccines are also available at many local and chain pharmacies. To find your nearest site offering flu and other vaccinations, visit vaccinefinder.org.
"Flu shots are the best way to protect yourself, your family, and the community at large from becoming seriously ill with the flu," said interim county health officer Erica Pan, MD, MPH. "As a public health official, a pediatrician, and a parent, I ensure that my entire family gets a flu vaccine every year."
The health department also reminds the community to help prevent the spread of germs by staying home from work or school when sick, covering your nose and mouth with an elbow or arm if a tissue isn't available to cough into, washing hands regularly with soap and water, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Last year's flu season was especially severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of Aug. 25, 180 flu-related child deaths had been reported to the CDC for the 2017-18 season, about 80% of which involved children who hadn't received a flu vaccine for that season.