You can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the news without reading or hearing about the H1N1 flu. For the last several months there have been almost daily “updates” about the spread of the illness or the availability of the vaccine or, sadly, about another H1N1-related death.

Lately, however, those updates have slowed a bit. There are reports hospitals and clinics are starting to see fewer patients coming in with flu-like symptoms. Other reports indicate the number of students staying home from school is declining.

While it’s good news that fewer people are getting sick, this does not mean we can take our eye off the target — becoming ill from the flu remains a serious threat.

Now is not the time to say to ourselves, “This is no big deal — the flu bug is going away and I don’t have to worry about getting sick.” In fact, the peak of the seasonal flu season is yet to come. And many health care experts are predicting another surge of H1N1 flu will roll though this country and our area shortly after the first of the year.

Now is the best time to get both the seasonal and the H1N1 flu vaccine. More and more supplies are being made available through public health agencies, hospitals and clinics. Watch and listen to the news media for information about vaccine availability in your area. Next time you’re in for an appointment with your health care provider; ask them about getting the vaccine.

For residents in the greater Mankato area, there will be a free H1N1 flu clinic this coming Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State University. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is open to everyone. We strongly encourage people to take advantage of this opportunity to get their H1N1 vaccine.

With the end-of-the-year holidays upon us, many people will be gathering with family, friends and co-workers. Kids will be home from school. Stores will be filled with holiday shoppers.

These gatherings can be breeding grounds for the spread of the flu virus.

Protect yourself. Protect your family. Get vaccinated against both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu. Make sure you cover your cough, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you are sick.

Let’s all keep our eye on the target and not let the flu become an uninvited guest over the holidays.

Brian Whited, M.D., medical director, Immanuel St. Joseph’s; Mark Matthias, M.D., chief medical officer, Mankato Clinic; Bob Meyer, director, Blue Earth County Human Services

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