A nurse administering a flu shot.
A nurse administering a flu shot. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The flu season has officially begun: The Israel Center for Disease Control, part of the Health Ministry, has identified the first two cases of the winter, both in children from Modi'in.

The influenza virus was identified in two samples from 48 suspected flu patients sent in recent days to the ministry's central laboratory. One was from a 3-year-old boy, the other from a 4-year-old girl. According to Dr. Michal Bromberg, head of the ICDC's Unusual Morbidity Unit, although both children live in Modi'in they are thought to be unrelated. She also noted that since neither had been abroad recently both were presumably infected in Israel.

The virus identified in the children is influenza A. While a subtype of influenza A, H1N1, was responsible for the 2009 swine flu outbreak, that was not the strain identified in the samples from the children.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have already been vaccinated against this winter's seasonal flu. As in previous years the vaccine is offered at no cost by all four health maintenance organizations.

Clalit Health Services ordered 820,000 vaccine doses and reports that 71 percent of eligible members have been vaccinated. Kupat Holim Meuhedet has administered 32 percent of the 234,000 doses purchased this year, while the Leumit HMO reports that 54 percent of the 80,000 doses ordered have been used.

This year's seasonal flu vaccine includes three strains of the virus: H1N1, H3N2 and a subtype of influenza B that was first documented in 2010 in the U.S. state of Wisconsin.

The Health Ministry recommends that all Israelis over six months old be immunized, which is also the recommendation in the United States.

But the main target populations for the vaccine are people aged 50 and up (especially those 65 and older ), children from six months to six years old (especially those older than two years ), as well as pregnant women, people with chronic disease and residents and staff members of institutional settings.