Last year's severe flu season has Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) officials encouraging residents to get vaccinated.

"Sadly, we saw 29 influenza-associated deaths reported in Wyoming," said WDH Epidemiologist Reggie McClinton. "This represents the highest number our state has seen in many, many years. We also had a high number of reported cases overall compared to usual."

Dr. Wendy Braund, State Health Officer and WDH Public Health Division Senior Administrator, says the flu shouldn't be sneezed at.

"While influenza is something we see every year, it should never be overlooked or just accepted as no big deal. Flu can often be a very serious illness and, sometimes, deadly, as we saw last year," said Dr. Braund.

Dr. Braund says almost everyone six months or older should get a seasonal flu vaccine each year.

"Getting a flu vaccine is safe and is the most important action people can take to help prevent getting ill with influenza and avoid passing it on to others,” said Dr. Braund. "Predicting which flu strains will be most common in a given year is complicated and sometimes strains can 'mutate' or change. Last season's vaccine was not as effective as we would have liked, but Wyoming residents should not use the troubles with last season's vaccine as an excuse to avoid this season's vaccination."

Dr. Braund says it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer protection.

"We don't want people to wait until folks around them are ill," said Dr. Braund. "We've already seen the beginning of early activity."

Influenza vaccines are available in many locations, including local public health offices, workplaces, doctors' offices and retail stores.

"Flu vaccines are not expensive and most insurance policies cover the costs," said Dr. Braund.

In Wyoming, the cost of the vaccine itself is covered for many children by federal funding and the vaccine program for those eligible is managed by WDH. Children who qualify include those covered by Medicaid, uninsured children, American Indian or Alaska native children and some children considered to be underinsured.