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Flu now widespread across Massachusetts

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BOSTON (AP/MyFoxBoston.com) - Federal health officials have added Massachusetts to the list of states where the flu is now widespread.

The latest flu report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the week that ended Dec. 21 says the flu is now widespread in Massachusetts and nine other states - Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.

State health officials say there is still time to protect yourself by getting a flu shot.

"Just recently, we hadn't seen much flu activity until this week or so but now the flu has really kicked off and we're starting to see a lot of patients with the flu," said Paul Bittinger, head of emergency preparedness at Mass. General Hospital. After last year's state of emergency with the flu, the medical community is telling people to take no chances. Bittinger said he strongly recommends getting the flu shot for those who haven't already done so.

Health experts say they're seeing some cases of swine flu, also called H1N1, but they note this year's flu vaccine defends against the swine flu.

"The best weapon is to get a flu shot the vaccine does include H1N1 this year so if you get the vaccine it's targeted against the strain that seems to be out there the most." Bittinger said. "It takes one to two weeks to develop an immunity and in fact right now is a really great time to get your flu vaccine."

Tests have confirmed nearly 860 flu cases across the state this season. No deaths have been reported. There were nearly 6,700 confirmed cases in Massachusetts last season.

"With another flu season upon us, we urge residents to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and communities from getting the flu," said Anne Roche, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Public Health, in a statement.

"Nationwide, seasonal flu causes an average of 250,000 hospitalizations and up to 36,000-49,000 deaths in a severe influenza season. Typically, flu season in New England begins in November, increases in January, and peaks in February or early March."

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