01/03/2013 09:31 EST | Updated 03/05/2013 05:12 EST

Flu Season Hitting British Columbians Earlier


British Columbians are coming down with influenza earlier than in previous flu seasons, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

"This year we are seeing an earlier increase than we normally expect,” said epidemiologist Dr. Danuta Skowronski.

“But we can't say that that necessarily spells into a worse season overall. We're only about halfway through the influenza season, which can span anytime between November and the end of April."

She says a stronger strain of influenza started showing up during the Christmas holidays, likely spread by all the hugs and handshakes at holiday gatherings.

"We were picking up activity already in October. Towards the end of November it started to ramp up and going into the holiday period it started to show clear signs of spiking.

"We're seeing circulating an H3N2 sub-type virus, and those tend to be somewhat more severe, typically, than other kinds of influenza viruses," she said.

Fortunately that H3N2 strain is in the flu vaccination this year, making the immunization more effective, and it is not too late to protect yourself.

"If you haven't been immunized yet, now's the time to do it."

She notes influenza, which normally causes fever and coughing, is not the same as the norovirus, which has hit several hospitals and can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

And for those who do get the flu, Skowronski says the best advice is common sense.

"Fever and cough? Take the week off!"

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