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December 3, 2012

CDC: Flu season underway early

OTTUMWA — The 2012-2013 flu season is well underway, and the Centers for Disease Control says Iowa is seeing regional activity.

The regional designation is the second-highest level of flu activity, behind widespread flu. Seven states, including Iowa, fall into that category, with another five reporting widespread cases of the flu.

The CDC figures for flu run a couple weeks behind the calendar, with the newest report covering only through November 24. This year's flu season is running well ahead of normal, with the CDC reporting that doctor visits for flu-like symptoms hitting a benchmark level earlier than in any season since 2003-2004.

That conclusion is supported by another, less formal measure: Google Flu Trends. It predicts flu levels based on searches for flu terms and has shown to be accurate in past years. It's a strong enough resource that the CDC links to the page from its own website.

Unlike the CDC report, Google's estimates are based on real time activity. Doing that bypasses the lag required while the CDC receives reports. The trend line for the 2012-2013 season shows higher activity at an earlier date than the 2009-2010 flu season. That year saw epidemic levels of the H1N1 flu, a strain that has reappeared this year.

The CDC says this year's flu vaccine is a good match for the flu strains being seen and urges anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to get a flu shot.

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