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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is speaking out about this year’s extremely rapid flu outbreak.

The department released a statement on Friday saying the contagious disease is “likely to last for several more weeks.”

Reports have shown that the flu is now widespread in 47 states, up from 41 last week. The number of deaths related to the flu has also increased with a total of 20 Americans succumbing to the disease.

Health officials say that the outbreak will get worse before it gets better.

“Some indicators continue to rise as others have fallen slightly,” said Lyn Finelli, chief of surveillance and outbreak response for the CDC’s influenza division. “It’s too early to say exactly what this means. Some regions may be peaked while other parts of the country are still on the upswing.”

Experts report that this year’s flu outbreak is much more severe than last year’s flu season. Researchers say the primary influence on the severity of the flu outbreak each season depends on how susceptible people are to the types of infecting viruses such as the H3N2 virus.

“That virus is always associated with high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths,” said Finelli. “It hasn’t circulated in recent years, so there are a lot of susceptibles. It has the opportunity to make a lot of people sick.”

H3N2 was prominent during last year’s flu season prompting doctors to include it in the flu vaccine this year. However, scientists believe that simply getting a flu shot will not guarantee full protection from the disease.

“What we’ve known for a long time is that the flu vaccine is far from perfect,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Friedman. “But it’s still by far the best tool we have to prevent the flu.”

Even though the flu vaccine offers some protection, many people are opting out of it this year. As of November 2012, only 37 percent of Americans reported that they had received a flu shot.

“That’s pretty typical,” said Bill Hanage, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And it’s not enough to make much of a dent in transmission.”

Doctors recommend that senior citizens and children receive the shots since their immune systems can be more susceptible.

“If you have a child under 6 months, as I do, the best means of protecting them is to make sure the people around them are vaccinated,” Hanage said. “I’ve had my flu shot.”

While some have taken strides early to avoid infection, many people have waited until seeing family, friends and co-workers with cold symptoms to take action.  As news continues to spread about this year’s intense outbreak, more people are racing to their doctors and drug stores for vaccinations.

Pharmacies in New York are having trouble keeping up with the last minute demand for shots.

“We ordered more, but just don’t know when they’ll come in, “said Pharmacist Keila Mena. “No one wanted shots at the beginning of the season. We were basically begging people.”

Health officials recommend seeing a physician as soon as flu-like symptoms appear. They advise that you stay home from work as to avoid spreading the infection as well as using elbows to cover mouths when coughing or sneezing.

(Photo: AP)

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