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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The number of influenza cases this year in Utah already has surpassed the number reported all of last year, health officials said.
Flu cases have been confirmed in every health district in Utah except the Uinta Basin. However, 745 of the 850 cases are in Salt Lake County, said Pam Davenport, Salt Lake Valley Health Department spokeswoman. Most of the cases are in children.
Only 697 cases were reported in last year's flu season, according to the Utah Department of Health. The first case wasn't reported until mid-December.
The increase has prompted state health officials to ask people, especially children and pregnant or nursing mothers, to get vaccinated.
"This appears to be one of the worse seasons we've had in years," said Scott Williams, executive director of the state health department. "It's never too late to get a flu shot because there are three strains of flu circulating."
The notion that the vaccine is not effective to prevent the flu this year is inaccurate, said health department spokeswoman Jana Kettering.
"We believe the vaccine is absolutely the most effective way to prevent it. It is the best protection," she said.
Besides getting a vaccine, Kettering said, the next best protection is respiratory etiquette: covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, using a tissue and properly disposing of it, washing your hands and not going places where there are many people if you're ill.
"We know that environments where people are together in closed air spaces tend to be great breeding grounds for influenza and other diseases," Kettering said. "Church, day care, school, work. If you're sick, stay home."
They also ask that people who feel ill avoid public places like shopping malls and restaurants. They are also suggesting people who are ill see a physician, especially now there is medication that can reduce the flu's severity if given early.
Typically the flu hasn't shown up much by Thanksgiving, so Kettering predicts with families gathering for the holidays there will be even more cases to report next week.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)