Last updated: August 25. 2013 6:23AM - 450 Views

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LIMA — Flu season has begun early this year.

The Centers for Disease Control reported that flu season had its earliest start in the United States in nearly a decade. It’s been that way locally, too, with 24 people hospitalized for the flu at St. Rita’s Medical Center in October. Last year, there weren’t any flu-related hospitalizations that month.

Deb Roberts, assistant director of nursing at the Allen County Health Department, said there have been serious flu cases throughout the year, and this winter things are probably going to be worse.

“What’s been kind of different for this year is that typically, we see those cases during the flu season in September to February. Anywhere in there, it’s usually pretty normal to see cases of flu hospitalized. But for this year, we’ve actually had a case almost every month,” Roberts said. “It’s almost like it didn’t go away.”

Carolyn Wieging, manager of infection prevention at St. Rita’s Medical Center, added, “It’s gone on the entire year, but we’ve seen a slight increase now this fall.”

It’s difficult to track every flu case in the region since many go unreported. Rather, the health department looks at how many people have been hospitalized because of the flu. For instance, there were no hospitalizations at St. Rita’s from July through October 2011, but this year, there were flu-related hospitalizations throughout the summer and fall.

“We’ve had more cases this year reported to us at more times during the year,” Roberts said.

That’s not expected to change anytime soon, with flu season just beginning.

She said the best way to prevent getting the flu is to get vaccinated. According to the CDC, more than one third of Americans have done so already. On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season.

“It’s not too late. It takes about two weeks for your body to get the antibodies to protect you. So the sooner you get it, the better,” Roberts said.

The flu shot is recommended for anyone 6 months or older. Heightened risk groups include the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases.

And of course, there are things anyone can do to prevent the spread of many diseases.

“Stay home if you’re sick. Lots of fluids, plenty of rest,” Roberts said. “Wash your hands, cover your cough when you sneeze.”

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