Flu (copy)

A recent death from influenza in Monterey County is prompting health officials to remind people to get vaccinated.

The flu coming on strong this year, already claiming the lives of at least three Monterey County residents and more than 50 people statewide. The third death was confirmed on Jan. 7. The unidentified patient died at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in Salinas and is believed to be the first flu-related death of 2020, according to SVMHS spokesperson Karina Rusk.

There have been 16 flu outbreaks around the state since the season began in September, with higher than expected hospitalizations and outpatient visits, the California Department of Public Health stated in its most recent report for the week ending Dec. 28. All counties are experiencing elevated levels of flu cases.

It’s not too late to be vaccinated, says Karen Smith, spokesperson for the Monterey County Health Department. There’s still a supply of flu vaccines available in the community from pharmacies, the county’s clinics in Salinas and Seaside and through people’s health care providers. For people with insurance it’s often possible to find free vaccinations through pharmacies.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. It might not stop someone from getting the flu, but it could lessen symptoms. The vaccine will not give someone the flu and has been shown in studies to be safe and effective.

The third death coincides with the introduction of SVMHS’ Mobile Health Clinic, a 30-foot customized vehicle which will travel to various locations in the county and will be offering flu shots in coming weeks.

“The flu is not just a bad cold,” said Dr. Orlando Rodriquez, Mobile Health Clinic Medical Director, in a press release from SVMHS. “Complications from the flu can have serious consequences and we know taking medical care directly into neighborhoods will improve access to the quality care our community needs and deserves.”

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The mobile clinic is designed to offer primary and preventative care to families at no cost, removing barriers such as expense, travel or fear, according to the release. Services include immunizations, primary care, simple urgent care, health screenings, education and referrals for chronic medical conditions. The initial schedule will include three Salinas locations, Castroville and Greenfield. After a few months of operation, the stops will be evaluated to determine the possibility of additional locations.

Smith says it appears flu cases may have peaked a little earlier than usual—the season runs fall through spring, peaking at around late January or in February—but “it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a shot.”

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