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Flu season begins with a vengeance in Carolinas

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2012 at 10:09 am •  Published: December 31, 2012

"We are categorizing it as widespread. We are seeing earlier outbreaks than in previous years and our numbers are pretty high," Evans said.

Health officials say they aren't sure why it's hit earlier than usual. Other states are in the middle of outbreaks, including Alaska, New York and Mississippi.

North Carolina Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies says flu outbreaks are unpredictable, except that they come just about every year between September and March.

But this particular strain — H3N2 — is typically harder on older Americans than Influenza B or H1N1.

"We're seeing a lot of older people getting sick with it, even people who have been vaccinated," Davies said.

"Despite the fact that we have a lot of research done on the influenza virus itself, we don't really completely understand what makes one flu virus strain worse than another," she said. "What we know is that seasons where H3N2 is the predominant strain, older people get sicker and die more. But what precisely about that strain makes it worse, I can't tell you."

While vaccinations like the one Coleman received help ward off the flu, they're not always 100 percent effective.

"Vaccinations are going to prevent the flu in the majority of people who get the shot, but not in every single person," Davies said.

That's particularly true with older Americans. "Only 65 to 70 percent of the older population who get the flu shot will actually develop good immunity," Davies said.

Still, health officials encourage older Americans to get the shot because if they get sick with the flu, it could spell trouble.

"Their odds of getting the flu are much less if you get the shot," she said.