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A woman walks out of the Premier Care walk-in health clinic which administers flu shots on January 10, 2013 in New York City. The Flu season has hit parts of the country particularly hard this year with Boston declaring a public health emergency and a Pennsylvania hospital constructing a tent to handle excess flu cases.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 22,048 flu cases have been reported from September 30 through the end of 2012.
Flu season this year began about a month early, and it is already taking its toll across the U.S. In total, 47 states are now in the midst of fighting the latest strain of the flu virus, and some spots like New York and Boston have declared public health emergencies.
Some think the flu is just a common illness and nothing to worry about, but it can be no laughing matter, especially for pregnant women, children or the elderly. Flu vaccines are readily available and highly recommended, but they're still just 60-percent effective against the virus.
"100-percent effectiveness would be fantastic, but on the other hand if you can cut your odds that's great too and why not when its a safe vaccine," said science writer Carl Zimmer, author of the book "A Planet Of Viruses." "If you look at it in terms of a public health measure, if you get a lot of people taking the vaccine, you'll have many thousands of people who are not going to get sick and you'll have people that aren't going to die."
The virus peaks in the winter because of the humidity in the air that helps the virus travel farther distances. An infected person coughs, sending virus-infected droplets into the air, to land on doorknobs, keyboards, and other places people, especially in crowded places like schools or offices, may end up picking it up.
Because there are different strains of the virus, you're not guaranteed immunity from contracting it more than once a season. There have been two reported deaths from the flu here in California this year, but for the most part, the state has been spared from the brunt of the virus. That doesn't mean it won't get worse.
"I don't think anybody really knows or can tell you why California has been spared so far. There's nothing special about California, sorry to say," said Zimmer. "But bear keep in mind, this is early, this is not normally the peak of flu season, the modeling suggests that its going to stay this bad or worst for a few more weeks."
How to protect yourself from the flu:
1.) There CDC recommends you get a flu shot!
2.) Avoid sick people if at all possible.
3.) Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap. Wipe down surfaces with antibacterial wipes, especially areas you share with other people.
4.) Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth before washing hands.
5.) Get plenty of rest, exercise and sleep. Make sure to drink plenty of water and tea to stay hydrated.
Find a flu vaccination clinic in your area: