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Health Experts Give Update on Flu Season

It's been flu season since October, but it's still not too late to get your vaccine.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) It's been flu season since October, but there still a couple months left.

"Traditionally, if you look over the last 30 years or so, February has been the peak month," said Ron Tolen, epidemiologist with the St. Joseph Health Department.

Only sporadic cases have popped up in Missouri, but the CDC is reporting widespread infection rates in several states, particularly Alabama, Louisiana, and New York.

Now there's news from Texas, a state reporting at least five deaths from the H1N1 strain, commonly known as "swine flu."

"The majority of hospitalizations for influenza occur in people 65 years and older, and the majority of deaths are in that group," said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer from the CDC.  "But, we know that H1N1, this particular influenza virus does cause more infections in younger adults."

Tolen says it's not time to sound the alarm just yet, however.

"H1N1 is a 2009 strain," he said.  "It's what's been in the vaccine for the last thirty years.  So it's really not a new strain that we're seeing.  It's basically what we expect."

Health experts say the best way to prevent any strain - including H1M1 is to get vaccinated every season.

And it's not too late to do so.

"Every formulation of vaccine that you can get this year will protect against H1N1 and it will also protect against other influenza viruses that we think are circulating," Dr. Jhung said.

Tolen says the Health Dept. is out of the units of vaccine provided at the beginning of the season, but urges people who want one to get it at a local pharmacy or at their family doctor's office.

"Influenza is the highest killer of vaccine-preventable diseases.  There's a chance to stop that trend just by getting the vaccination for influenza," he said.

Tolen says there are other basic ways to prevent the spread of influenza:

"Wash your hands.  If you're sick, stay home.  Don't spread it around.  Keep your kids home during that period of time when they could be contagious too."
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