Centers for Disease Control: High level of flu reports in 29 states

(CBS News) The flu started early and the virus is spreading rapidly. In an update Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reports a high level of flu activity in 29 states and a moderate level in nine others. Health officials say it's not too late to get vaccinated. We look at who should get the flu shot.

Seventeen-year-old Max Schwolert came down with the flu. Later, he took a turn for the worse and was soon airlifted to a Minnesota hospital.

"It was really just a snowball effect over several days," said Phil Schwolert, Max's uncle. "Doctors made a few brief periods of some progress but just were never really able to get ahead of things and his body honestly just couldn't keep up."

The flu virus can weaken a person's natural defenses. Max, who did not get a flu shot, developed a bacterial infection and pneumonia. It caused his organs to shut down. He died on Dec. 29.

"Influenza causes death often through its complications, said Lyn Finelli, who tracks flu for the CDC. "Especially in the elderly, influenza causes death through pneumonia and through exacerbation of chronic underlying conditions."

Scientists use weather to forecast flu season

Eighteen children have died from influenza-related illnesses since the flu season began.

"It's an extremely early flu season," said Finelli. "In fact, we're about five weeks ahead of schedule this year."

Since 2010, the CDC has recommended flu shots for everyone over the age of six months. Yet only 37 percent of Americans have been vaccinated this season, which is about average.

I asked the CDC what is the number one misconception that people have about the flu. They said it's the mistaken belief that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. The CDC said it cannot -- it can give you a reaction, you might have some aches and pains and low-grade fever, but that should go away in a day or two. They said it's especially important this year when it's such an active flue to get vaccinated -- they said it's the number one way to prevent the flu.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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