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Feeling Miserable? You're Not Alone, And The Flu Epidemic Has Yet To Peak

If you haven't caught the flu yet or don't know someone who has, you might want to buy a lottery ticket today. You're one lucky person.

As The Associated Press writes, "from the Rocky Mountains to New England, hospitals are swamped with people with flu symptoms." More than 40 states report "widespread" outbreaks. The flu's been blamed for the deaths of at least 20 children, the AP adds.

"We are into what would classically be described as a flu epidemic," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told CNN.

It's far from over, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said on All Things Considered. "Usually, flu peaks in January or February," he told host Audie Cornish. "We don't know when the peak will be, but it looks like it's certainly started sooner, and the peak may go higher this year than most years."

About the only good thing we can report is that CNN says the spread of the flu may have slowed in some parts of the South and Southeast. Those are the regions of the nation that got hit first, and for them the worst may be over.

Experts say that if you haven't gotten vaccinated, there's still time — though it will take a couple weeks for the shot to have its desired effect and you may find it hard to find a pharmacy or doctor's office that can give you a shot. The Washington Post writes that "an early, severe flu season and higher-than-anticipated demand have resulted in some shortages of vaccine, setting off a last-minute scramble in the Washington area and nationwide, according to health officials, doctors and retailers."

To keep from getting and spreading the flu, the CDC continues to recommend these basic steps:

-- "Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

-- "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.

-- "Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

-- "Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.

-- "Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

-- "If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine."

For ongoing coverage of the flu season and other health issues, check with our colleagues at the Shots blog.

Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. Outbreak Still "Elevated," But "May Be Decreasing In Some Areas":

As we said above, there is a bit of good news. The CDC just reported that for the week ended Jan. 5 "influenza activity remained elevated in the U.S., but may be decreasing in some areas." Officials caution, however, that the holiday season makes it more difficult to collect data. So, those places might report next week that the flu is spreading again. According to the agency, "47 states reported widespread geographic influenza activity."

The CDC also says that "between Oct. 1, 2012 and Jan. 5, 2013, 3,710 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported. This is a rate of 13.3 per 100,000 population."

Only the "far west coast" — primarily California — is relatively unaffected, the CDC says.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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