Dec. 21, 2012 at 12:34 PM ET
There’s more evidence that this is shaping up to be a nasty flu season, with the number of states with high flu activity doubling in a week and reports of the achy, feverish illness spreading widely across the U.S.
Eight states are now reporting high levels of what’s known as influenza-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Eighteen states reported widespread flu activity for the week that ended Dec. 8, according to the agency’s FluView data.
"Today’s report confirms that the U.S. flu season is off to early start,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement. “It’s too early to tell how severe our season might be. However, we know that thousands die and hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized with flu each year. Vaccination is the single most important step we can take to protect ourselves and our families against infection. It's not too late to get vaccinated before the flu season peaks.”
Flu season typically peaks in January and February.
The strains of flu showing up this year include two types of influenza A, H3N2 and the H1N1 that caused the 2009 pandemic. Influenza B viruses also have been identified.
The good news, though, is that this year’s vaccines are well-matched to the viruses, CDC officials said.
The eight states with high levels of flu activity include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Flu seasons can vary widely, but some years are severe, with hospitalizations of up to 200,000 people and between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths during a season.