Got the flu? You're not alone this year -
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Got the flu? You're not alone this year

The flu has stormed into the Midlands early this season and in high numbers, public health officials report.

The Douglas County Health Department has recorded 146 cases of influenza this month, the most for a December since 2003.

Nebraska, Iowa and national health authorities have described it as an early flu season. They continue to encourage people to get flu vaccinations.

Dr. Joann Schaefer, Nebraska's chief medical officer, said the flu isn't an illness to scoff at. “We can't lose sight of the fact that it can kill, and it has killed,” Schaefer said. “That's why we push this so hard. Influenza is awful.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health said the flu is widespread in the state. Sixty-four Iowa schools have reported flu outbreaks this season, up from 10 this time of year in 2011.

The Nebraska health department reported 79 cases as of late this week, up from seven at this time last year. The state's numbers are lower than Douglas County's because the county includes all kinds of influenza tests, including a rapid test done in doctors' offices. The state limits its count to one kind of test.

Douglas County's 146 cases during this month alone are up from 32 last December. From December 2004 through December 2010, the highest count for this month was 20, in 2005.

Dr. Anne O'Keefe, Douglas County's senior epidemiologist, said two flu strains in particular appear to be circulating. The vaccine seems to be a good match against them, she said. Besides getting vaccinated, she said, washing one's hands regularly, covering one's cough and staying home when ill are good ways to prevent the spread of flu.

Schaefer said the more who get the vaccination, the better the community's immunity to the disease. Influenza can be especially hard on the elderly, babies, diabetics, those with heart disease, those with weakened immune systems and patients receiving chemotherapy.

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