Health officials are urging Napa County residents to get their flu vaccine this fall, following last year’s “moderately severe” flu season.

During the peak of last year's flu season in late January, approximately 10 percent of hospital emergency room visits were for influenza-like illness, said Jennifer Henn, an epidemiologist with Napa County Public Health. Several influenza-associated deaths were also reported, Henn said.

Flu symptoms include fever and chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, coughing, sore throat, exhaustion and diarrhea, according to Kaiser Permanente.

In California, the peak flu season typically runs from early January to early April. The flu virus tends to spread from the East Coast to the West Coast — so on the East Coast, flu season often starts in November, said Dr. Stephen Parodi, chief of infectious disease and co-chair of infection prevention at Kaiser.

Parodi said the flu vaccine helps protect people for about a year.

Last year, the dominant flu strain in the U.S. was a H3N2 virus, which tends to cause more severe illness, Henn said. This year’s vaccine includes protection from H3N2, as well as H1N1 and an additional influenza B virus.

“Getting an influenza vaccine is still the best way to protect yourself and the people around you (especially elderly relatives, young children and pregnant women) from becoming ill with influenza this flu season,” Henn said. “There is no projected shortage in influenza vaccine this year, and we encourage everyone in the community to get vaccinated this fall.”

Every year in the United States, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, according to Napa County Public Health. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications, and about 36,000 die from flu-related causes across the U.S, according to the county website.

The flu is spread through “droplets,” most often produced by coughing, which is why doctors recommend always covering coughs and washing hands frequently. Experts say the best way to cover a cough is with the inside of one’s elbow. People who cover coughs with their hands have a higher chance of touching something, or someone, and spreading germs.

Cold and rainy weather also contributes to the spread of flu virus, because more people spend time indoors and are in close contact with one another.

To help kill flu germs, people should wash their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer gel.

People with flu symptoms should stay home and not return to work or school until they are healthy, according to officials.

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