National briefs: Flu season starting early

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NEW YORK -- Flu season in the U.S. is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade.

Health officials on Monday said suspected flu cases have jumped in five Southern states, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. It is particularly hard on the elderly.

More than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, and the vaccine formulated for this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far, officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Higher-than-normal reports of flu have come in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. An uptick like this usually doesn't happen until after Christmas. Flu-related hospitalizations are also rising earlier than usual, and there have already been two deaths in children.

Explosives plant cleanup

DOYLINE, La. -- The cleanup of 3,000 tons of explosives haphazardly stored at a munitions plant has frayed the nerves of residents who evacuated, closed the high school and spawned a criminal investigation of the company that owns the materials.

Authorities said about half the town's 800 residents had heeded requests that they leave during the cleanup that started Saturday, but some appeared to be returning to their homes. Some displaced residents were exasperated by the sheer volume of explosive material, which is more than authorities initially estimated. Adding to the uncertainty was a forecast of thunderstorms today that could slow efforts to move the propellant used in artillery shells to safer storage sites.

Obama hails Dems' leader

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama wants Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to stay on as his party's chairwoman.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz has overseen the Democratic National Committee since 2011. Party officials credit her in part with helping Mr. Obama carry Florida, as well as leading the party to an expanded majority in the Senate and more seats in the House.

"I've asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to continue her excellent work as chair of the DNC," Mr. Obama wrote Monday on Twitter. "Thanks for all you do, Debbie."

Coast Guard death

LOS ANGELES -- Two Mexican nationals have been charged in the death of a Coast Guard member who was killed Sunday in an encounter with smugglers off the California coast, the U.S. attorney's office announced Monday.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne, 34, suffered a head trauma after his boat was struck by a panga, a style of boat popular among smugglers, carrying two Mexican nationals.

Revelation on Mars

LOS ANGELES -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has found complex chemicals in the dusty soil of the Red Planet.

The sample includes some evidence of organic compounds, one of the basic building blocks of life -- but nothing that definitively shows there is or ever was life on Mars, scientists said Monday.



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