by Mike HixenbaughReporterA recent long-term scientific study revealed one crucial -- albeit less-than revolutionary -- discovery. The New England Journal of Medicine officially declared last month that a flu shot reduces your chances of getting the flu.The revelation may not be earth-shattering, but infection control specialist Beth Young is glad to have some numbers to back up what she's been preaching for years."I believe strongly in the importance of the influenza vaccination," said Young, who works at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. "We're approaching [November], so we're getting close to that time. Statistics show that this is not something to skip."According to the study, vaccinated adults ages 65 and older are 27 percent less likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia or influenza during the flu season -- and 48 percent less likely to die from any cause -- compared with unvaccinated adults.Senior citizens, as vulnerable as they may be to the illness, are not the only ones who should take heed. "Especially this year," Young said.Medical experts throughout the region expect this year's flu season to hit hard -- really hard. Doctors in Australia have reported a season 10 times more potent than in 2006.That doesn't bode well because flu patterns in the United States typically mirror those in Australia, Young explained. Combine the tumultuous forecast with what Young describes as an expanding population of at-risk patients, and Northeast Ohio could be in for one long, extra-congested, coughy, sneezey winter.Unless of course, people get their flu shots, Young said."IT'S NOT just people who are 65 and older and toddlers anymore," Young said. "Anyone pregnant should be immunized. Any child between 6 months and 4 years are at a high risk. "This might hurt some people's pride, but experts say everyone over the age of 50, not 65, really needs to get an influenza vaccination."In addition, anyone who lives with or is in frequent contact with any of the aforementioned at-risk population should also be immunized, Young said."There aren't supposed to be any vaccine shortages this year, so there's no good reason not to get it," she added.The Portage County Influenza Task Force, led by the Portage County Health Department, has set up a series of flu shot clinics beginning in November. The cost of vaccine will be $20.To find a flu shot clinic near you, call United Way 211 Portage by dialing 211, or 330-297-4363, or toll free at 1-800- 961-0191.Portage County residents age 14 and older also can receive flu shots at Robinson Memorial beginning Nov. 5.Working Partners, the hospital's occupational health program, will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays to provide vaccine. Medicare Part B is accepted. Medicare HMO Part B subscribers and all others must pay at the time of service. The cost per vaccine is $20. Call 330-297-2385 for more information.For those who cringe at the thought of having a needle inserted deep into their arm, Young has one last bit of advice."Ask anyone who had the flu last year if the symptoms they experienced were better than just getting the shot," she said. "The flu is a horrible thing to have. Just get the shot."Editor's note: Hixenbaugh is a reporter for the Record-Courier.E-mail: mhixenbaugh@recordpub.comTelephone: 330-296-9657