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Flu season arrives early

YORK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — During the holiday season, people often welcome friends and family into their homes. But one unwelcome guest is already showing up: t...

YORK TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- During the holiday season, people often welcome friends and family into their homes. But one unwelcome guest is already showing up: the flu virus, which is arriving a little earlier than usual this year.

As of Nov. 30, the flu had sickened at least 2,667 Pennsylvanians and killed six, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“This is turning out to be a significant flu season,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

This flu season is unusual for a few reasons; in addition to starting a few weeks earlier than last year, this year's infections seem to be coming from Influenza B, a different strain than usual for the fall.

With symptoms like headache, body aches and fever, the flu is no fun. But you can help protect yourself and your family with one simple, easy step, health officials say.

“It is critically important that people get the flu vaccine,” Levine said. “It is by far the best way that people can protect themselves from getting the flu.”

Though it's not 100 percent effective, the flu shot greatly reduces the risk of catching the flu.

“If they've had the vaccine it's much less severe and lasts a shorter period of time,” Levine said.

Plus, flu shots are free with most insurance, and you can get them at doctors' offices, drug stores and even some supermarkets.

“It really doesn't take any time and there is no good reason not to,” said Dr. Richard Turosinski, a family medicine physician at WellSpan Dallastown Family Medicine.

Getting your flu shot is even more important as the holidays approach, when many people will be gathering together.

“The bottom line is get the flu vaccine and get it now,” Levine said. “Now is the time.”

Health officials also encourage everyone to practice healthy habits, like washing your hands regularly and covering your mouth when you cough. If you do get sick with the flu, they say to stay home to avoid infecting others.