Flu season has yet to arrive in Alabama, but health officials expect it to hit hard once it does.
As many as 800,000 Alabamians, or 20 percent of the state's population, probably will get the flu this winter beginning in January and February, according to the health department.
For now, a flu-like respiratory virus and an intestinal virus are going around.
"We haven't yet confirmed the influenza virus in the state," Dr. Charles Woernle, the epidemiologist for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said last week.
The agency is monitoring for the flu at 21 locations across the state and will report outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Monitoring helps researchers determine which strain of virus to inoculate against next year, and it can detect whether another worldwide outbreak, or pandemic, is occurring.
In Alabama last year, several hundred people died from the flu, and 1,130 people died with flu-like illnesses including pneumonia, according to the Department of Public Health. It was the seventh-leading cause of death in Alabama last year.
Nationwide, influenza kills about 20,000 people each winter, officials said.
The flu is accompanied by a fever of at least 100 degrees, coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, a headache and aching muscles and bones not caused by any other underlying conditions.
Flu symptoms can be treated and even prevented with a readily available vaccine. Officials said last week it is not too late to get the vaccine, which takes about two weeks to take effect.
The vaccine is available at many health departments, doctors' offices and freestanding medical clinics and other locations.
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Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvac.htm ( The Center for Disease Control Vaccine Information Web site)