Fall season also means the start of flu season, and local healthcare officials are gearing up for the patients coming in for vaccinations.

Michelle Gomez, charge nurse at the Finney County Health Department, 919 Zerr Road, said in a recent interview that the FCHS is offering flu vaccinations for all ages.

“We offer the four-strain flu vaccine. We also offer the high dosage, which is for people that are 65 years and older,” she said. “The reason for that is it is a little bit stronger of a dosage for them, just because their immune system is sometimes weaker.”

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus and can cause mild to severe illness.

Symptoms for the flu include fever, chills, sore throat, cough, body aches, runny/stuffy nose, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting, Gomez said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone 6 months or older receive an annual flu vaccination to protect against some strains of seasonal influenza.

So far this flu season, 130 million flu vaccines have been distributed so far, according to the CDC.

Last year, the Finney County Health Department administered nearly 1,900 flu vaccinations, and in 2015, about 1,300 were administered.

Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. During recent flu seasons, between 80 and 90 percent of flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 and older.

According to the CDC, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months, with influenza activity beginning to increase in October and November. Flu activity peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.

Gomez said it is typically an unknown on how many people will be affected by the flu because it depends on if the virus spreads, how well the vaccination works and if people are taking preventative measures. She said one of the main preventatives of the flu is getting a vaccination.

“Covering your cough, washing your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, cleaning and disinfecting around you are some preventative measures,” Gomez said. “When you’re sick, you obviously want to limit your exposure to other people. If you know that you do have the flu, it’s best to stay home and stay away from other people.”

One person should take care of the sick individuals in a household to prevent other family members from being exposed, Gomez added.

Those who have a higher risk of contracting the flu are people 65 and older, people with chronic medical conditions or underlying medical conditions — like asthma or chronic lung diseases — as well as pregnant women and young children, Gomez said.

Gomez noted that the health department has been reaching out to various businesses in the community and providing flu shot clinics for its employees.

Anyone interested in setting up a flu shot clinic for their business can contact the FCHD at (620) 272-3600.

Gomez said the health department does not do appointments for flu shots, but if a client is at the clinic by appointment for another reason, they can get their flu shot while they are there. Walk-ins are welcome during business hours from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The FCHD accepts most private insurances, as well as KanCare and Medicare. It also offers flu shots for uninsured children through the Vaccines for Children program. VFC is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay, according to the CDC.

Those wanting more information on the program can call the health department.

Most county health departments, grocery stores and drug stores that offer flu vaccinations provide them on a walk-in basis.

Genesis Family Health, 712 St. John St., is offering flu vaccinations. Clinic hours for Genesis are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday (closed from 1 to 2 p.m.). Those inquiring about flu vaccinations at Genesis can call (620) 275-1677.