As the leaves turn and the air grows crisp, most people are thinking about Halloween costumes or getting a leg up on their Christmas shopping.
But health professionals are thinking about the flu -- namely how to prevent the nasty virus from making Tri-Citians sick in coming months.
And they agree the best means of prevention is to get a flu shot.
Routine annual vaccination is recommended for everyone from 6 months of age up to seniors, according to the Benton Franklin Health District.
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Even though this year's shot is the same as last year's -- which includes vaccination against the H1N1 strain of "swine flu" that spread like wildfire in 2009 -- the protective effect of the shot declines with time, making annual vaccination necessary for optimal prevention.
And now is the time to get the vaccine because the protection works best when people are immunized before the flu starts spreading in the community, the district said.
The health district is offering flu shot clinics at its Pasco and Kennewick offices by appointment, and at its Prosser office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. To make an appointment, call 460-4200.
Most doctor's offices also should have a supply of the vaccine, and pharmacies at Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart, Rite Aid and Walgreens stores also are offering the vaccine. For hours and locations, go to www.flu.gov and type your ZIP code into the flu shot locator.
Veterans can get a free flu vaccine at one of several flu shot clinics planned in Richland by the Veterans Administration.
VA will set up a mobile flu shot clinic from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today in the rear parking lot of the Federal Building, 825 Jadwin, Richland.
The clinic will function like a mini veterans' fair, with representatives on-hand to provide veterans with information about help with homelessness or how to access medical and other benefits, said Linda Wondra, spokeswoman for the Walla Walla VA.
More VA flu shot clinics will be offered from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 21 and 28 in Room 152 of the Federal Building, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Richland VFW, 1369 George Washington Way.
For more VA locations offering flu shots, go to www.walla walla.va.gov.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the spread of flu can be prevented by frequent hand-washing, covering a cough or sneeze, and staying home from school or work when sick.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org