Chris McKinley, who works for Nesco Service Co. at 661 E. 400 South, dropped over to the nearby Salt Lake City-County Health Department headquarters on Wednesday for her flu shot.

"We had 'em last year," she said of the employees of Nesco, which fields many temporary workers. "I made all of our sales force go in here and have a flu shot last year. . . ."Last year it worked - it really did."

McKinley was among an estimated 400 to 500 Utahns who had received their shots by midafternoon on Wednesday in the health department auditorium, 610 S. 200 East.

About a half-dozen people sat on the folding chairs, most of them toward the front of the auditorium. They held forms that they had filled out while registered nurse Margie Denison vaccinated others behind a cloth partition.

Health department employees Terrylynn Crenshaw and Michele Kempner worked with forms and counted money at a table toward the front of the auditorium.

People generally have been patient waiting for their vaccinations, said Crenshaw. "Everybody wants to get in and get it done," she said.

The previous day, the first day of the vaccinations, about 800 shots were dispensed in the auditorium, said Kempner.

Linda Reeder, who was answering telephone queries for the health department, said she heard that on Tuesday, the building was packed with folks seeking vaccinations. "I was told it was lined up pretty much from one end to the other, in the hall," she said.

"I'm getting a lot of calls," Reeder added. "I think they're getting scared because of the Asian flu or whatever it is that's supposed to be so bad."

Dr. Gary L. Bloomgren, a physician in outpatient clinics for Intermountain Health Care's Instacare system, hasn't seen any data that would show how bad the flu season will be locally this year.

"It's extremely difficult to predict into the future how severe a flu season is going to be," he said. Flu viruses mutate every year, developing new strains, and many people develop at least partial immunity to some of the strains.

Beijing flu, a variety of Type A influenza, may show up this flu season, which generally begins in December. It hasn't been around for a long time, which means most have not developed immunity.

The main worry with flu, Bloom-gren said, is that it will cause some victims to develop dangerous complications. Older people, and anyone with a metabolic problem like diabetes, heart disease or breathing disorders, should get the vaccination.

"Most of the clinics, like Instacare, are giving immunization to anybody over the age of 12," he said. Younger children with illnesses such as severe asthma or cystic fibrosis should get flu shots from their pediatricians.

"There is a misconception by many people that influenza is anything that causes a runny nose and a cough and a sore throat," he said. Actually, it is characterized by a sudden, acute beginning, with achiness, infection in the upper respiratory system, and fever, often as high as 103 or 104.

"The time between exposure and onset of symptoms is usually just a matter of days." That rapidity causes flu to sweep through the population in a hurricane of sneezing.

Bloomgren recommends that health-care workers, day-care employees and others in close contact with a lot of people get flu shots. They are needed to keep society functioning.

That's the thinking behind the action that many hospitals are taking. "All employees at University Hospital are offered free flu shots every year," said John Dwan, spokesman for that institution.

Dr. John Hibbs, chief of infectious diseases at University Hospital, said influenza "tends to be a seasonal illness, with the flu season being in the winter months."

Back in the City-County Health Department auditorium, Dolores Culmer, Salt Lake City, was getting her vaccination.

"I just read where old people - quote, `old people' - should get a shot," she said, explaining why she was there. "And if it could help, why not?"

Cecelia Siegel, 83, echoed that reason. "They just said, because you're old people, you better hurry up and get it," she said. This is the second or third year that the Siegels have had them.

Did the shots help? "I suppose," said her husband, Dal, 84. "I think we did all right last year."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Where to get shots

Flu shots are available in the offices of private physicians, clinics and public health services. But the vaccine is expected to run out early in the winter.

The Salt Lake City-County Health Department is offering vaccinations, at $5 for senior citizens and $6 for others, at six locations.

Shots are dispensed at 610 S. 200 East, in the auditorium of the department's headquarters; at 3195 S. Main, South Salt Lake; 5255 S. 4015 West, Kearns; 8446 S. 340 West, Sandy; 8630 W. 2700 South, Magna; 2001 S. State in room S-2400, South Building, Second Floor.

For most of these places, the hours are from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and then from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. The exceptions are that health workers at 2001 S. State are vaccinating only from Tuesdays through Thursdays, 1 to 4 p.m., and those in Magna only give shots on Tuesdays, 1 to 4:30 p.m.