Flu season hits early and, in some places, hard

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There’s a new flu vaccine each year, based on the best guess of what flu viruses will be strongest that year. This year’s vaccine is well-matched to what’s going around. The government estimates that between a third and a half of Americans have gotten the vaccine.

But the vaccine isn’t foolproof, and even those who were vaccinated can still get sick. At best, the vaccine may be only 75 percent effective in younger people and even less so in the elderly and people with weak immune systems.

Health officials are analyzing the vaccine’s effectiveness, but early indications are that about 60 percent of all vaccinated people have been protected from the flu. That’s in line with how effective flu vaccines have been in other years.

In New York City, 57-year-old Judith Quinones suffered her worst case of flu-like illness in years, laid up for nearly a month with fever and body aches. “I just couldn’t function,” she said.

She decided to skip getting a flu shot last fall. But her daughter got the shot. “And she got sick twice,” Quinones said.

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

Flu usually peaks in midwinter. Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.

Most people with flu have a mild illness and can help themselves and protect others by staying home and resting. But people with severe symptoms should see a doctor. They may be given antiviral drugs or other medications to ease symptoms.

The last bad flu season involved a swine flu that hit in two waves in the spring and fall of 2009. But that was considered a unique strain, different from the regular winter flu.

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Online:

CDC flu: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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