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Physician, Surgeon, medical gown, mask

There were 1,304 cases of flu in St. Louis County in the last week of 2017, a record weekly tally, health officials said.

Statewide, there have been 17,182 cases this season compared to 2,041 cases last year at this time. There have been nearly 500 deaths from pneumonia and influenza in Missouri since October. Illinois also reports widespread flu activity, with flu-related doctor visits three times higher than normal for this period.

"This year has turned out to be highest flu activity in the last four years, and we haven't even hit the peak yet," said Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "We're looking at what could be the worst — by numbers — flu season in 10 or more years."

Lawrence said the people who have been hospitalized with flu this season mostly have the H3N2 virus strain of influenza A. In previous years when H3N2 was the dominant strain, there were higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths among young children and people 65 and older. 

Health officials say it is not too late to get a flu shot. The shot is expected to be about 32 percent effective in lowering the risk of contracting H3N2 flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anyone with symptoms of flu (fever above 100 degrees, cough, body aches and pains, fatigue) should seek medical attention and stay home from work or school.

Blythe Bernhard is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.