By: CBS News
Updated: January 9, 2013
Flu season has started early in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control says this is the earliest flu season in a decade. And the stakes are high. Each year influenza deaths range from a low of 3,000 to as many as 50,000.
Flu season has hit early and with a vengeance.
Doctors say flu season normally peaks in mid to late February. But hospitals in Chicago are already so overrun with flu cases, they’ve had to turn patients away from emergency rooms.
“We don’t have a great explanation for why it started so early this year,” says Dr. Allison Bartlett, infectious disease expert with University of Chicago Medicine.
Illinois is one of 41 states reporting widespread cases of the flu. And at least, 18 deaths have been blamed on the virus.
Nurse Cheryl Palm is battling the flu herself. “This is the worst, the worst. And I did get the flu shot.”
See also: Greene County Flu Cases Rise Again; No Shortage of Vaccines
Vanderbilt University’s Dr. William Shaffner says part of the problem is that vaccines don’t prevent one strain spreading across the country. “At the moment, we have, you might call it a “rogue” virus out there causing about 10% of the cases.”
Rogue virus or not, experts at the Centers for Disease Control in Washington say the vaccine still covers 91-percent of all strains analyzed this year. That’s why doctors say you should still get the flu vaccine.
“Even if it doesn’t prevent the infection completely, it can definitely make the infection much less severe,” Dr. Barlett says.
And shortages of flu drugs like Tamiflu are being felt across the country. Pharmacists suggest calling ahead to make sure the drugs are in stock.
CBS News medical correspondent, Dr. John Lapook, says only about 37-percent of Americans have received the flu vaccine this year.
Of course there’s one more thing doctors say you should be doing to keep from getting sick in the first place – and that’s washing your hands frequently.
(Susan McGinnis, CBS News)