Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Brian Duke reports that 50 Pennsylvanians over the age of 65 died last year from influenza complications.

Groups most at high risk for developing the flu include young children, pregnant women, anyone with chronic medical conditions and health care workers. Last flu season, there were 115 flu-related deaths reported nationwide in people younger than 18 years of age.

Although influenza activity has been sporadic so far this season, it is highly contagious and can pose serious and life-threatening health risks. During the 2010-11 flu season, 19,190 influenza cases were reported to the Department of Health, with 21 percent of those cases involving people 65 and older.

This being National Influenza Vaccination Week, people of all ages are encouraged to get vaccinated against influenza.

Unfortunately, the number of people seeking flu shots begins to taper off after November. To emphasize the importance of continuing influenza vaccination throughout the holiday season and into January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established this week for a special push.

This week, free flu clinics will be offered through the Department of Health's 60 state health centers and the network of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), as well as through other public and private partners. The Department of Health is also recognizing health care organizations that have achieved superior vaccination rates in health care settings.

"Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective tools available for preventing disease," said Secretary of Health Dr. Eli Avila. "By increasing vaccination rates, we can fight the spread of influenza and help Pennsylvanians stay healthy during the holidays and into the New Year."

The seasonal influenza vaccine provides protection against three types of flu: 2009 pandemic H1N1, influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B. Flu season typically runs from October through May, and often peaks between January and March.

Individuals seeking vaccination from the Department of Health are encouraged to contact their local state health center for clinic hours or call 877-PA-HEALTH.

Older Pennsylvanians are encouraged to contact their Area Agency on Aging. For more information on seasonal influenza, contact your local health care provider or visit www.health.state.pa.us, where you will also find a list of free flu clinics being offered across Pennsylvania.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com