Amid a widespread and virulent outbreak of winter flu, immediate prospects for prevention are slim, local health workers say.

According to employees at the Red Bank Rite Aid, demand for flu shots has jumped dramatically in recent days. Jessica Uddo, an employee in the pharmaceutical department, said that activity jumped from between five and seven flu shots a day to about 15 people seeking shots every hour.

“It’s been crazy,” said Paul Mayer, store manager. “People even came in with medical masks a few times each day.”

The attention is not unwarranted. According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been 20 pediatric deaths associated with the flu –three in New Jersey and New York. The illness is epidemic, widespread in 47 states, the CDC reports.

The CDC especially urges senior citizens, young children, and people with special conditions to get vaccinated because they are at a greater risk of complications resulting from the illness.

But because of  a spike in flu infections, vaccinations have been selling out rapidly in local pharmacies. The Red Bank Rite Aide and Walgreens and CVS  in Little Silver have sold out of vaccinations earlier in the day, employees said. Each location is expected to get more vaccines this week. Pharmacists often recommended to check Target, Costco, or the Visiting Nurse Association for those who don’t want to wait.

Doctor Stephanie Reynolds, medical director of emergency care at Riverview Medical Center, says that this flu season has been the worst in 10 years. She tests about 15 to 20 people a day, and more than half of them have been testing positive for influenza.

“I’ve called four pharmacies today,” Reynolds said Friday. “They were all completely out, but one of them may have more vaccinations by tomorrow.”

Not that a shot is a sure thing. A preliminary CDC study found that the vaccine is 62 percent effective this year in preventing the flu. However, Reynolds says that even if you acquire the flu, the vaccine will greatly reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Still, experts from the CDC and the New Jersey epartment of Health recommend that you get a flu shot. This is especially true for children from 6months to 5 years old, pregnant women, and citizens over 65, because they are at a greater risk of “complications” such as death by flu.

Reynolds recommends that if you are unable to acquire a flu shot, it is best to just be wary.

“Be very cautious out in the general public,” says Reynolds. “Good old fashioned hand washing kills 80 percent of what comes in contact.”

Reynolds also warns against another major threat to public health: the norovirus. This is a gastrointestinal virus that causes diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. This year, norovirus has frequently been overlapping with the flu along with the whooping cough.

Reynolds said has seen about two of these cases a day, and recommends that if you are unlucky enough to get both to just stay away from everybody and wait.