U.S. flu season starts early

Dec. 3, 2012 at 9:39 PM
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ATLANTA, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A significant increase in U.S. flu activity in the last two weeks indicates an early flu season and health officials urge getting a protective shot ASAP.

"Increasing flu activity should be a wake-up call," Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director of the Center's for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a telephone news conference Monday. "For anyone who has put off vaccination: it's time to get your flu vaccine now."

With the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this is the earliest the nation has hit the influenza-like illness baseline since the 2003/2004 season, which was early and severe, especially for children, Wharton said.

"Baseline is the point at which we know the influenza-like illness activity we are seeing is most likely caused by influenza and not other viruses," Wharton explained.

Last season, which was mild and late, the U.S. did not reach baseline for influenza-like illness until mid-March, Wharton added.

Wharton said National Influenza Vaccination Week, which began Monday, was a national observance established in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.

In the past, CDC has observed that influenza vaccination has declined rapidly after Thanksgiving and the vaccination week provides a post-Thanksgiving opportunity to urge citizens to get a flu vaccine.

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