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Flu season starts early - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Flu season starts early

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NEW YORK -

If you haven't had your flu shot yet, now is the time. Health officials say this is the earliest start of the flu season in nearly a decade.

The Centers for Disease Control says in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas are all reporting higher than normal numbers of cases.

"We usually see flu begin to have an uptick 4-6 weeks from now, so seeing it this early could well predict not only a longer but a more severe flu season," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC.

Federal health officials say the most common strain this year tends to make people sicker than usual, but they are encouraged because this year's vaccine seems to protect against it.

An estimated 112 million Americans-- more than one-third of the nation-- have already received flu shots this season. The vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months or older.

People who are very young, very old or who have health problems are at greatest risk, but the flu can knock anyone out of work or school for a week or so.

High fever, sore throat, a cough and body aches-- those are the main symptoms," said Dr. Jahangir Rahman, an internist.

This year's strain is particularly hard on the elderly, but 70-year-old Noel Jeffrey isn't concerned.

"I've always been into preventative medicine, so I get the flu shot every single year and I never get the flu," Jeffrey said.

He says there's no reason everyone doesn't get vaccinated.

On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

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