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Grab the Sanitizer -- Flu Season Finally Starts

Woman Blowing Nose

Here's hoping you haven't procrastinated (like me) and have gotten your flu shot. If not, this is your (and my) last chance to get protected before flu season is in full swing.

Because even though it's the slowest start in 30 years, the flu season has officially begun, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its FluView Surveillance Report, the CDC reports that for the first time this season, more than 10 percent of respiratory samples collected in the U.S. tested positive for the flu. According to the CDC, surpassing 10 percent means "flu season is beginning."

The highest number of flu outbreaks have been reported in California, the L.A. Times reports. The central and northwestern U.S. regions are reporting an increase in influenza-like illnesses, with Missouri, Texas and Virginia reporting localized upticks.

People most at risk for flu are those age 65 and older, as well as those with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems. If you haven't gotten a flu vaccine shot, it takes two weeks to take effect, so hop to it.

In the meantime, wash your hands or use sanitizer and stay away from sniffling, sneezing folks, if you can.

If you want to track the spread of flu in real time, there are several ways to do it:

* FluNearYou uses first-person reports to monitor the spread of flu nationwide. The project, a joint effort of Children's Hospital Boston, the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the American Public Health Association, already has attracted more than 2,000 people willing to report weekly about their flu symptoms, according to The goal is to speed up monitoring to be better able to predict where the flu will strike next. Participants register, and then agree to fill out weekly surveys that ask whether they've suffered flu symptoms such as aches, chills, fever and coughing in the past week, or whether they've had no symptoms at all. They're also asked to report whether they've received flu shots.

* Google Flu Trends is an analysis based on users' search terms related to flu symptoms. It lets experts detect flu at least two weeks faster than the laboratory-confirmed surveillance system used by public health officials, including the CDC.

* FluView is the CDC site for tracking influenza based on laboratory-tested samples. It also includes a weekly summary of flu findings.

In other health news:

Rules force hospitals to trash scarce drugs. Mounting shortages of crucial drugs are creating a new dilemma for the nation's hospital pharmacists, who say they find themselves caught between breaking government rules for storage and safety -- or throwing away vital and lifesaving medications, an investigative report by finds.

Red means lead: FDA analysis find the most contaminated among popular red lipsticks. The recent analysis of 400 types of lipsticks found many contaminated with elevated levels of lead. Five lipsticks made by L'Oreal and Maybelline ranked among the top 10 most contaminated of the cosmetics, the Washington Post reports. Two Cover Girl and two NARS lipsticks also landed in the top 10, as did one made by Stargazer. Check out your favorite brand by clicking on this link to the FDA list.

Get a grip. Hand grip strength and walking speed may predict risk of dementia. Simple tests such as walking speed and hand grip strength may help doctors determine how likely it is a middle-aged person will develop dementia or stroke, according to a new study of more than 2,400 adults, average age 62, at Boston Medical Center.

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