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Flu season lurking around the corner
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As people start making out their holiday to-do lists, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is strongly advising one more task be added to the list and checked off before year’s end.

“Get a flu shot. It’s not too late to vaccinate,” said the health agency’s Public Health officer Dr. John Walker. “The flu is coming and it will be here soon.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported significant increase in flu activity in the United States over the last few weeks, indicating an early flu season. Most of the reported cases have tested positive for the H3N2 strain, which is one of the viruses included in the vaccine.

Flu season typically begins in October and peaks in activity in January and February.

According to CDC’s weekly surveillance report published on Nov. 30, 48 states and Puerto Rico have already reported cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza. Influenza-like-illness or ILI activity levels in parts of the country are already higher than all of last season. Nationally, the United States reached the baseline level for ILI the week ending Nov. 24, and five states are already reporting the highest level of activity possible.

 “Baseline is the point at which we know the ILI activity we are seeing is most likely caused by influenza and not other viruses,” said Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

With the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this is the earliest that the nation has hit the ILI baseline since the 2003-2004 season, which was early and severe, especially for children, according to the CDC. Last season, which was mild and late, the U.S. did not reach baseline for ILI until mid-March.

“This year’s strain is more virulent than other strains, even H1N1,” Walker said. “H1N1 mostly spared seniors because it was an older strain. But this is not a very old virus and seniors need to get vaccinated.”

Flu cases have been reported in California already, but the majority of the activity is expected to come in the new year.

“In Northern California the pattern is usually an increase in flu cases late in the season from January to March. Last year it continued into April and May,” Walker said. “Fortunately we are still at a point that vaccination can still matter.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms often include sore throat, cough, fever, nasal congestion, muscle soreness, headaches, fatigue, and stomach pains.

The flu vaccine takes about two to three weeks for it to become effective. Currently vaccines are available through doctors’ offices and most pharmacies.