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Flu season gets early, harsh start

December 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:35 p.m. EST


From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Drug stores seem nearly as crowded as department stores in Manhattan this week as people stock up on cold and flu remedies.

Clothing manufacturer Richard Keeperman was standing in line with the best of them, thanks to a recent bout with the flu. He said he thought he was invincible until the flu put him flat on his back four days ago. "I thought I was going to die. I thought it was all over. I didn't think I was going to make it," he said.

The flu season has gotten off to an early start this year with an especially potent strain called A-Wuhan, named after the city in China where it is believed to have originated.


The week before last, three states -- Colorado, Connecticut and Pennsylvania -- reported severe outbreaks of the virus to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fourteen other states, including New York, reported serious outbreaks. In Whitehall, New York, the high school closed for 36 hours because so many students were out with the flu, and many who did come to class seemed sluggish.

The CDC says 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population comes down with the flu every year, and it is a contributing factor in 20,000 deaths. Senior citizens are especially at risk.

"The elderly actually have a lower rate of infection than younger populations, but when they do get the flu, they are much more likely to have a serious complication," said the center's Nancy Arden.

Because the flu's consequences can be so dangerous, health officials strongly urge flu shots for the elderly and for younger adults who may have underlying medical problems.

New York internist Dr. Steven Lamm goes even further.


"My basic recommendation is that anybody who uses a fork and has a pulse should get this vaccine... Why would you want to get influenza? It's a very nasty disease, you'll be wiped out for a few weeks, and you can transmit it to somebody who is at high risk," he said.

The vaccine takes a few weeks to produce enough antibodies to fight off the flu bug, so it's best to get a shot in October or November. But, with flu season stretching until spring, doctors say it isn't too late to try an ounce of prevention instead of loading up later on expensive cures.


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