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Flu Season Starting Early; Cases Mark Soonest Since 2003

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CBS Chicago (con't)

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Updated 12/03/12 – 3:53 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Doctors have been seeing an increase in flu cases, marking the earliest start to the flu season in nearly a decade.

Flu outbreaks have been more prevalent recently in the South, but Chicago-area hospitals are beginning to see more cases locally.

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this year’s flu season is the earliest since 2003-04 and that was considered a severe flu year. The cases have started hitting about a month earlier than a typical year.

This year’s strains, while well-matched to current flu vaccines, are the types of strains that signal a bad season for influenza, said Dr. Melinda Wharton, with the CDC.

Doctors were urging people to get vaccinated now. It not only will it help keep them from getting the flu, but it’ll help prevent the spread of it from normally healthy people to others who might be more susceptible to it.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of cases in the last two weeks,” said Mary Anderson, the infection control manager at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

The lab at Edward Hospital has already confirmed two dozen H2N2 cases in November, and three more in December.

“Young adults, children, adolescents, people that you don’t necessarily think of as being high-risk for flu; these are not all elderly people, they’re not all very young children, they’re not the high risk groups. They’re everybody,” Anderson said.

As an employee of Edward Hospital, Jennifer Browell is required to get a flu shot, but with this year’s H3N2 strain considered twice as deadly as other flu types, her bosses didn’t have to ask her twice.

“It’s worse than before. … I’ve got enough problems at home, I don’t need to be sick and end up in the hospital as one of the patients myself,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control is urging Americans to follow Browell’s lead, because when H3N2 was the predominant strain in 2003-2004, twice as many adults from the ages of 19 to 64 died from the flu. That year, 4,752 people died from the flu, compared with an average year of 2,385 from other flu strains.

The symptoms of the H3N2 flu are the same as other strains of influenza: chills, fever, muscle aches, high fever, chest pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Chicago has been offering free flu shots at clinics across the city, click here for a list.

Flu vaccination is recommended for virtually everyone older than 6 months of age.

Last year, just under 50 percent of adults and children got a flu vaccine, according to the CDC