The flu is starting to make its presence felt in Routt County, where local health care providers are urging residents and visitors to get vaccinated.
Twenty Steamboat Medical Group patients have tested positive for the virus recently, raising fears that the spread of the flu is picking up pace after a relatively slow start to the season. The flu season can peak anytime from December through March, but most often peaks in February.
"We're just getting to the point where it's starting to peak," said Janice Poirot, a registered nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. "It's starting to appear in this region."
Mary Dierdorff, nurse supervisor at Steamboat Medical Group, said the clinic has plenty of flu vaccine doses available for anyone interested in being vaccinated. Steamboat Medical Group is holding flu shot clinics from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. The cost for a vaccine is $15 for those who pay at the time of service and $18 for those who charge the vaccine through their health insurance provider. Vaccines also are available seven days a week during the clinic's regular business hours. No appointment is necessary.
Earlier this week, national and state health officials lifted all restrictions on the flu vaccine, opening the door for people of all ages and health conditions to receive a flu shot. The announcements came months after a national flu vaccine shortage that sparked fears that people at high risk of contracting the deadly illness wouldn't be protected.
Several local clinics, including Steamboat Medical Group, VNA, Yampa Valley Medical Associates and Steamboat Family Medicine, still have doses available.
The vaccine, administered via a shot, takes about two weeks to take effect. Receiving the vaccine doesn't eliminate the possibility of contracting the flu, a viral disease that kills 36,000 Americans each year. Those particularly at risk of becoming ill with the flu include children between 6 months and 23 months of age, anyone in regular contact with those children, adults 65 and older, and anyone with long-term health problems or weakened immune systems.
"We're hoping that most high-risk patients have already gotten their shots," Poirot said. But the reality is that many people at risk for contracting the flu haven't been vaccinated, she said.
Common flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, chills, cough, headaches and muscle aches.
Routt County is particularly susceptible to a flu outbreak because of the large number of tourists who come to the area from across the country and around the world, Dierdorff said.
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