Federal officials say the current flu season is shaping up to be a dangerous one, which is why they're urging Americans to protect themselves and take it seriously. Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
This year’s flu season is off to a dangerous start. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they are seeing cases in southern states much earlier than usual, and the strain that’s going around is making people extremely ill.
"This is the earliest flu season we've had for almost a decade," says Dr. Susan Rehm, the director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "And it's not only in the South. It's widespread in New York, too."
On average, the flu kills about 24,000 Americans every year. Doctors say it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
This year, there are more options for people who are unable to get the standard vaccine. In November, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first cell-culture vaccine to protect against the bug.
Flucelvax is different because it does not contain any preservatives, which keeps some people with allergies from getting the vaccine. But doctors say there are also lots of options for the regular vaccine.
"There's a nasal type, there's a short needle type, high doses for older people who need it for their immune system for responding," Rehm says.
Flucelvax is not for everyone. It’s only approved for people over the age of 18. During clinical trials, researchers found a small percentage of patients experienced minor side effects, like headaches and fatigue, but overall, it effectively protected patients against influenza.
There are always preventive measures you can take to protect yourself against the flu.
"Cover your cough, wash your hands, stay home," Rehm says. "These things help to prevent the spread of the flu and from passing it on as well."
Symptoms of the flu include head and body aches, fatigue, fever, cough and a runny nose. Sometimes it can lead to serious complications like pneumonia.
The CDC says more than 112 Americans have been vaccinated so far this year. The standard flu vaccine is recommended for those six months and older.