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Flu season is getting an early start in Alabama. Like Christmas decorations displayed in October, it just can't seem to wait until a proper time. Not that any time is a good time for flu season.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the state's first cases of influenza started cropping up in September.

"As of the first week in October, one district (East Central) is already experiencing significant influenza activity, and there are sporadic reports coming in from other areas of the state," the department reported.

The Northern District, which includes most of the Tennessee Valley, is one of the districts already reporting flu cases, according to ADPH.

The CDC estimates about 79,000 people died of influenza in the United States during the 2017-18 flu season, the highest number in the past decade.

The most important thing people can do to protect themselves against the flu is get vaccinated. It's quick, inexpensive and easy, and while the annual flu vaccine isn't foolproof — sometimes it doesn't match the flu strain that becomes most prevalent — it remains the best protection against a disease that sickens each year "on average, about 8% of the U.S. population ... with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ...

To fight the flu, the Alabama Department of Public Health recommends residents:

• Get vaccinated

• Wash your hands

• Cover your coughs and sneezes

• Stay home with fever

• Clean and disinfect

• Learn home care

• Call your doctor if symptoms get worse

• Stay informed

For details, see alabamapublichealth.gov/influenza/prevention.html.

But the most important thing is to get vaccinated, not only for yourself but for those around you who, for various reasons, may not be able to get vaccinated.

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