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It's not something most of us look forward to each year, but the official arrival of the flu season means that procrastinators who have been putting off getting a flu shot should schedule one soon.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Thursday that it had confirmed the first case of the flu for the season. The first case came six days later than the first one was diagnosed last year, so its arrival this year is fairly close to last year.

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Officials say the patient, who lives on the Eastern Shore, was diagnosed with an A strain, H3 virus. This year's flu vaccine protects against that strain, they said, as well as the H1N1 and B strains of the virus.

Signs and advertisements reminding people to get a flu shot have been up since last month and many people have already gotten a vaccination. Vaccinations are especially recommended for young children, seniors, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.

Flu shot clinics for seniors are planned from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 21 at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center; 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 23 at the Westminster Senior Center; and 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. Oct. 28 at the Taneytown Senior Center. The cost for those without Medicare or private insurance is $25.

The Health Department also is offering flu shot clinics for children from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 14, Oct. 29 and Nov. 19 at the Carroll County Health Department.

Flu shots also are available from your family physician, and many pharmacies in the area have signs up announcing times and dates for getting a flu shot.

Beyond getting a vaccination, the start of the flu season is also a time to remember all the safe hygiene practices that can help limit the spread of germs. If you're sick, you should stay home so as to avoid infecting others. Cover coughs and sneezes, and lots of hand-washing can reduce the risk of spreading or getting a virus.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tracks flu cases reported on its website. You can also sign up to help track the spread of the flu. The department also issues weekly reports about how the flu is spreading and the number of new cases. But the best information you are likely to get about the spread of the flu is when you notice a co-worker or someone in the grocery line sniffling, coughing or sneezing.

The holidays – from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year – are a time of a lot of activity (not to mention stress). The last thing that anyone needs is to be hit with the flu.

It takes a few weeks for the vaccinations to kick in. Given that the flu season has begun, the time is upon us to get a vaccination as soon as possible.

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