Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

With a particularly strong strain of the flu popping up around the country and in California, local health officials continue to advise residents to get their flu immunizations.

The Tuolumne County Public Health Department reports clusters of patients around the state have contracted the H1N1 influenza A virus this year. The virus, against which a flu shot in the United States will defend against, is commonly called the "swine flu" and first appeared in 2009. It's unusual in that it tends to more-severely affect middle aged adults, rather than the elderly and young children, as is more common with the flu.

In Tuolumne County, at least five cases were identified during the last week of December, said Dr. Todd Stolp, county health officer.

In all cases, the patients are recovering or have recovered, he said.

Stolp said all people over 6 months of age can receive a flu shot, and also suggested that people take extra precautions to follow good hygiene and help prevent the spread of flu.

Flu vaccinations are available at the Public Health Department, at many pharmacies and grocery stores, and at doctors' offices.

Public health offices generally hold clinics and push for flu shots in September and October so people can receive them to build up immunity for the season's peak. Influenza season peaks in January and February, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita, however, noted that the immunization is still effective if administered in the winter.

This year's dominant flu strain has swept through the southeastern United States already. In Texas, five people had died as of last week. At least two had underlying health conditions including hypertensive cardiovascular disease and obesity.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized every year because of the flu, and the virus kills thousands a year, according to the CDC. It's especially important for people who are over 50 or have chronic illnesses or conditions.

The flu vaccine is available as an injection or a nasal spray. The nasal spray is available to people between the ages of 2 and 49, with the exceptions of pregnant women and individuals with certain health issues.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue.

For vaccination information, call the Tuolumne County Public Health department at 533-7401 or the Calaveras County Public Health Department at 754-6460.