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story.lead_photo.caption Pharmacist Patrick Dudenhoeffer reaches Tuesday into the driver's side of a vehicle to administer a flu shot during Whaley's Southwest Pharmacy's drive-thru flu shot clinic. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

The News Tribune is offering this article free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

It's official: With the beginning of October, we're now in flu season.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services maintains a webpage dedicated to providing updated information on the annual influenza outbreaks. The DHSS page includes weekly reports about the spread of flu in Missouri and archives about the weekly spread over the past five years.

Missouri's first weekly report for the season, which covers the week ending Oct. 3, shows the state had 14 confirmed cases during the week (seven influenza A and seven influenza B).

Missouri has had no influenza-related deaths yet this season.

With the flu season upon us, the Missouri Hospital Association and Hospital Industry Data Institute added a new tab to their COVID-19 interactive dashboard.

The MHA and state agencies developed the dashboard to help local, regional and state decision-makers monitor state health resources. It provides data intended to help hospitals manage health care resources during a flu season that will occur alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dashboard may be found on the MHA website, mhanet.com. Click on "Interactive Dashboards" for more information.

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A static breakdown of Missouri's Central Region, which includes Cole, Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Camden, Cooper, Gasconade, Howard, Miller, Moniteau, Montgomery, Morgan and Osage counties, may be found at mhanet.com/mhaimages/COVID-19/dash/CENTRAL_COVID19_RegionalDashboard.pdf.

A severe flu season by itself may cause significant strain on hospital and health care resources, MHA President and CEO Herb Kuhn said.

A "flu surge could stress hospital resources to the maximum," Kuhn said in an MHA news release.

The severity of the annual flu season varies. But one factor that can influence the rate of illness is whether people receive vaccinations. Vaccination is an essential tool to be used to keep rates of hospital and health care use low through the season, Gov. Mike Parson said in the release.

Flu traditionally peaks in Missouri between the months of November and March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccination rates generally correlate with the number of individuals needing care for influenza, the CDC said.

The influenza dashboard includes information on state vaccination rates (and flu and influenza-like illnesses) over the past five years. The historical data confirms most severe flu outbreak years also were the years the state had the lowest vaccination rates, according to the release.

The Cole County Health Department will offer free flu shots at drive-thru clinics scheduled 5-7 p.m. Nov. 4 and 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 7 at the Health Department, 3400 W. Truman Blvd. in Jefferson City.

Adults ages 19 and older may receive the shots during the clinics. They must bring completed consent forms, available at the department's website, colehealth.org, or its Facebook page, facebook.com/colecountypublichealth. Forms also will be available at the site during the clinics.

The Cole County Health Department also offers flu vaccinations, among other immunization services, for walk-in patients from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays. The cost depends on insurance coverage, according to the Health Department's website. For children and adults with health insurance, vaccines are run through the insurance company and prices depend on coverage. For children 18 and younger without insurance, the federally funded Vaccines for Children program allows the Health Department to charge an administration fee only. For adults 19 and older without insurance, prices vary and are discussed at the time of service.

For more information, call the Cole County Health Department at 573-636-2181, ext. 3117.

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