The Western U.S. is being particularly hard hit by the flu this season. Colorado has reported 6,306 cases, more than in the last two seasons put together, and at least 5 children there have died from it. Texas was the first state to report heavy flu activity and has had 4 flu-related deaths. New Mexico has run out of serum for flu shots and Nevada and Utah report many cases as well.
"Obviously, the number exceeds (the norm), and the season is not over," says Dr. Ken Gershman of the Colorado Department of Public Health. The 300,000 doses of flu vaccine that were originally available in New Mexico have been used up already and the state is trying to buy more. Gary Simpson, of the New Mexico Infectious Disease Bureau says, "As a state, we're almost out of vaccine."
About 10 to 20% of people usually come down with the flu every year. This year's flu strain is especially virulent, compared to the last 2 seasons, in which the flu has been mild. "We're getting ready for it to be a severe season, but we don't know how severe it could be," says the CDC's Jennifer Wright.
The flu virus got started and spread earlier than usual this year. Preventive medicine expert Dr. William Schaffner says, "That is always the harbinger of a bad season." The flu is usually at its worst sometime between January and February. This year it started in November and is peaking in December.
A flu shot takes several weeks to become effective, but it's not too late to get it?if you can find one.
It's safer to stay home and shop. If someone on your Christmas list is ill, give them the soothing sounds of the ocean, as expressed in healing music.
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