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Doctors urge flu shots as season reaches peak




WASHINGTON (WJLA) - A high school outside Chicago is shutting down for an entire week to try and stop the flu from spreading; 88 students had been diagnosed with the flu on Friday. Now, nationwide, with at least 30 children who have died from the flu this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging parents to vaccinate their children.

The parents of a North Carolina girl, 6-year old Emily Muth, are describing how the virus took their daughter's life. Over three days, her symptoms seemed to improve, then suddenly worsened.

“I noticed that she wasn't breathing,” said her mother, Rhonda Muth.

Emily did not get a flu shot this winter. And her parents want her tragic death to be a warning to others.

“Even if [the vaccine is] not a perfect match, you can protect yourself from a lot of the severe effects of the flu,” said D.C. Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Preetha Iyengar.

D.C. DOH data shows a dramatic spike in positive influenza tests in the first two weeks of the year, likely making January the peak of flu season. Health officials said this is much earlier than normal but it is a season that continues for many months.

“When we say the flu season, we mean October to May,” Iyengar said.

Meanwhile, a new University of Maryland study shows -- beyond coughing and sneezing -- the flu can simply be spread through breathing.

“People with flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness. So, when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others,” said Dr. Donald Milton, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead researcher of the study.

To prevent the flu from spreading to other patients in waiting areas, George Washington University Hospital and other local emergency departments immediately provide a mask to anyone showing flu-like symptoms.

This flu season has even taken a toll on donations to the American Red Cross, which has issued an urgent call for blood and platelet donors after a spike in canceled appointments.

The organization calls it a critical situation with supplies being sent to hospitals faster than they're coming in. The Red Cross blames the shortage -- in part -- on this year's flu epidemic.

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