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DALLAS North Texas health departments are reporting a surge in influenza this season. In Dallas County, cases have more than tripled in three weeks.

According to records obtained from Dallas County Health and Human Services, positive flu tests are on the rise: There were 16 the week of Nov. 9, 19 during the week of Nov. 16, 41 the week of Nov. 23 and 67 the next week.

Reports of the increase prompted Anita Tinagbedia to get a flu shot at the Dallas County Health Department on Thursday.

'I need to stay healthy so I can take care of my children,' she said. 'And also to take care of my husband.'

Her 3-month-old David is too young for a flu shot himself.She has an 18-month old son, too.Both are at the ages considered particularly vulnerable to the H1N1 virus, the predominant strain circulating right now.

'What was circulating last year was Influenza B,' said Dr. Christopher Perkins, health authority for Dallas County Health and Human Services, 'And that was more of a burden on our older population. Where H1N1 tends to have more impact on our younger citizens as well as pregnant women.'

H1N1 is included in this year's flu vaccine as well as the other circulating strains. This year, for the first time, the county is offering a Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine that protects against four strains of influenza virus.All of the flu mist protects against four strains.The high dose flu shot is available specifically for people older than 65.

Since October, 50 people have been hospitalized for influenza in Dallas County.Twelve people were hospitalized during the last week of November, which is when the latest figures are available in Dallas County.

There have been 182 total flu cases reported in Dallas County since Oct. 5, according to county records. In all, 4,574 residents have been tested for the flu in that time period, of which about 4 percent have tested positive.

In the United States, one pediatric patient has died from influenza this season.Tinagbedia said she has every intention of protecting her precious little ones by protecting herself with a flu shot, which health authorities strongly recommend.

Health departments in Dallas and Denton counties are offering free flu shots to those who qualify.

Free flu shots will also be offered at a Plano drive-through clinic from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday at the Carpenter Park Recreation Center's parking lot at 6701 Coit Road.

The Collin County Medical Reserve Corps will administer the vaccines to anyone between the ages of two and 64. If it rains, the clinic will move indoors to the preschool room.

Email jstjames@wfaa.com

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