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Flu season heats up

By Leslie Tamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 11:58 AM

Flu season is normal - which means the case for getting vaccinated is strong

Don't let the warmer, brighter days fool you. Flu season is not over.

"We are right now at the highest level of flu cases we've seen all season," said Keri Hall, director of the office of epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health.

Historically, the annual flu outbreak starts as early as October and often peaks in February. And as in most of the country, health departments in Virginia, Maryland and District have seen a rise in the number of flu-related hospitalizations and positive tests for influenza over the past few weeks. (Last season's H1N1 pandemic had a different rhythm: It had several peaks, and the largest occurred in October.)

"So far, the season has started at an expected time and is progressing similar to past seasonal flu seasons," Dan Jernigan, a medical epidemiologist with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, wrote in an e-mail.

Because more people have the flu now, more people are coming in contact with an infected person. "All the more important for people to get vaccinated," Hall said. It's not too late to protect yourself and others.

Rite Aid, Walgreens and pharmacies in Safeway and Target stores are still offering flu shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online search engine to locate places with the vaccine: www.flu.gov/whereyoulive.

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