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TRICARE beneficiaries have many options to prepare for flu season

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- TRICARE officials urge their 9.6 million beneficiaries to take preventive steps to stop the spread of the flu.

Seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that many beneficiaries may already have been exposed to throughout the year. The 2010 through 2011 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: H3N2, influenza B and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season, officials said.

Two forms of influenza vaccine are distributed in the U.S., and both are covered by TRICARE:

-- An injectable, inactivated vaccine that contains a killed virus and can be used in all age groups six months and older.

-- An intranasal spray made with live, weakened influenza viruses; limited to use in healthy people between the ages of two and 49 years, and who are not pregnant at the time they receive the vaccination.

Beneficiaries can get the flu vaccine at no cost to the member from military treatment facilities, TRICARE-authorized providers and participating network pharmacies.

In this year alone, 75,676 TRICARE beneficiaries were vaccinated at retail pharmacies in September, compared to 107,836 in October and 56,669 in November, officials said. While these numbers are high, TRICARE still urges beneficiaries who have not been vaccinated, to do so.

Beneficiaries should always check ahead for the days and times the flu vaccine is available and the age range served at that location, officials said. Some states have restrictions for pharmacies giving vaccinations to children, so beneficiaries should ask the pharmacist if there are any restrictions. If there are, consider using an MTF or have a primary care physician vaccinate the child.

Links to search online for MTFs, providers and pharmacies can be found at www.tricare.mil/flu. To find a participating pharmacy, call (877) 363-1303.