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Bad news about the flu: Season of attack early and it will reach its peak around the holidays

The flu season arrived earlier this year and seems to be booming during the holidays.

In addition, it is known that the dominant strain that circulates now causes more severe symptoms than other types, and there is a concern that vaccination will be less effective than usual to prevent its spread.

Even so, public health officials urge people to get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible. They say it is the best opportunity to avoid getting sick. Even for those who get the virus, getting vaccinated can help minimize the severity of the symptoms.

"So that people do not ruin their vacations, one of the things they can do now is make sure they get vaccinated against the flu." said Dr. Al DeMaria, medical director of the state office of infectious diseases.

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Each flu season is unique in terms of time and severity, but influenza cases generally do not peak until January, February or even March. [19659008] DeMaria said the last time the flu season collided with the holiday season at the end of December was in 2003.

"This is one of the first seasons in a long time," DeMaria said.

State public health commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said in a statement on Tuesday that authorities have seen in recent weeks "a very rapid increase in influenza-like illnesses in Massachusetts, along with an increase in confirmed cases of influenza "

The latest weekly report from the state's flu health department, released on Friday, said the geographic distribution of flu-like illness activity in Massachusetts was "widespread" and "growing, consistent with increasing activity in other parts of the United States. "

However, Dr. Jenifer Jaeger, interim medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the city has not seen influenza activity above normal until now.

Why is the concern that this year's vaccines are less effective?

The vaccine used in the United States is now the same one that was just used and works badly in another part of the world. In Australia, which normally has its flu season just before it starts, this year's vaccine was, according to preliminary estimates, only 10 percent effective in preventing the same flu strain that is dominant so far in the United States. United.

"It's an indication that we can have that problem," DeMaria said. But, he and other specialists said, we will not know for sure until later in the season once researchers have enough data to calculate how effective vaccination was in the United States.

The most common symptoms of the flu are fever accompanied by a cough or sore throat. Other symptoms include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and fatigue. Some people, especially young children, may also have diarrhea and vomiting, authorities said. Symptoms can last from a few days up to a week or more.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health

The virus spreads through droplets of saliva and mucus that come out of the nose and mouth of an infected person when they cough or sneeze, authorities said. People can get the virus if they simply breathe near an infected person when that happens.

Symptoms can begin between one and four days after a person becomes infected, but infected adults can spread the virus from about a day before they start. feeling sick about a week later. Children can spread the flu even longer after the symptoms appear, officials said.

Recent studies show that vaccination reduces the risk of contracting the flu by 40 to 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It may not sound good, but DeMaria said that getting the flu shot is the best way to prevent getting the virus, and the sooner, the better. The vaccine takes about two weeks to provide protection against infection, they said.

He said that even healthy people who are not among the groups considered most at risk for complications from the flu should be vaccinated to minimize the chances of getting the virus, it is aimed at the most vulnerable people.

Along with influenza vaccinations, officials recommend that people take other preventive measures, such as washing their hands regularly and thoroughly, covering their mouths and sneezes, staying away from others when they are sick, and talking to your doctor if they think they are sick.

DeMaria said that the early start of this year's flu season could mean it will also end earlier than normal. But that is also unpredictable, he said, noting how, for example, last year flu activity peaked, began to decline, and then peaked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Matt Rocheleau can be contacted at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrochele.

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