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All but 3 states host widespread flu

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 9:14 p.m.
This Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 photo shows nurse Debbie Smerk, right, administering a flu shot to Pamela Black at MetroHealth in Cleveland. Ohio health authorities reported Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 that a child has died from flu complications, as the state's flu-associated hospitalizations continue to climb at much higher rates than the last two flu seasons. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

NEW YORK — Flu is now widespread in all but three states as the nation grapples with an earlier-than-normal season. But there was one bit of good news on Friday: The number of hard-hit areas declined.

The flu season got under way a month early, in December, driven by a strain that tends to make people sicker. That led to worries that it might be a bad season, following one of the mildest flu seasons in recent memory.

The latest numbers do show that the flu surpassed an “epidemic” threshold last week. That is based on deaths from pneumonia and influenza in 122 cities. However, it's not unusual — the epidemic level varies at different times of the year, and it was breached earlier this flu season, in October and November.

And there's a hint that the flu season may have peaked in some spots, like in the South. Still, officials there and elsewhere are bracing for more sickness

In Ohio, administrators at Miami University are anxious that a bug that hit employees will spread to students when they return to the Oxford campus next week.

“Everybody's been sick. It's miserable,” said Ritter Hoy, a spokeswoman for the 17,000-student school.

Flu was widespread in 47 states last week, up from 41 in the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday. The only states without widespread flu were California, Mississippi and Hawaii.

The number of hard-hit states fell to 24 from 29, where larger numbers of people were treated for flu-like illness. Now off that list: Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina in the South, the first region hit this flu season.

The government does not keep a running tally of adult deaths from the flu, but estimates that it kills about 24,000 people in an average year.

Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older. Since the swine flu epidemic in 2009, vaccination rates have increased, but more than half of Americans have not gotten this year's vaccine.

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