Health providers say that California is due for an influenza virus outbreak that so far has skirted the state.
There have been only a smattering of flu cases in the San Joaquin Valley, but California is surrounded by the virus and it likely will move this way before long, doctors say.
Merced public health officials have said that getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid catching the flu. Indications are that the strains of the flu circulating this year closely match the strains in the vaccine.
Flu season in the United States typically peaks in February and March -- sometimes even as late as April -- but this year, a November flu arrival in the Southeast has doctors betting the season will peak earlier on the West Coast.
The virus has been on a westward move. In Arizona, for example, flu cases have doubled in the last week.
"Our time is coming," said Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead for the vaccine program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "I kind of expect that January is going to be a month with a lot of respiratory illnesses."
The end of the holidays, and the return of children to classrooms and adults to work, probably will jump-start flu season in the state.
Bergen said that once children are back in school, there will be more sharing of germs. The good news is that people who have had flu shots should have protection, he said.
It's not too late for a flu shot, but time is running out, Bergen said. It takes about two weeks to build up immunity.
To reduce the risk of getting sick from the flu, health care professional recommend that you:
Wash your hands often.
Wash telephones, computer keyboards and other shared instruments daily.
Use a tissue and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and then wash your hands.
Get a flu shot.
When ill, stay home to protect others.
After a fever abates (without fever-lowering medication), wait 24 hours before returning to work or school.