Flu outbreaks are already going strong in parts of the country, months before the season typically peaks, and this year’s vaccine does not exactly match the strain doctors are seeing so far, the government warned Monday.

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“This is very serious,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She warned that flu season could be worse than usual.

Gerberding begged people to get an early flu shot to avoid a potentially staggering flu season nationwide.

The shot is recommended for adults over 50, children between 6 months and 2 years, people with chronic medical conditions and people who work in health care. The vaccine is readily available this year, Gerberding said.

The outbreaks so far were strongest in Texas and Colorado in October and early November. Most of the country has had only sporadic flu infections so far this season.

But doctors are worried this year’s flu season could be brutal. Not only were the outbreaks early in Texas and Colorado, they involved a strain of influenza not targeted by the vaccine.

Gerberding said the vaccine should still protect most people, because the strains are very similar. The changing flu strain is called a “drift.”

“In the past this has happened. It’s a very common thing,” she said. “Whatever the drift is, the vaccine will still provide some cross-protection, so we’re optimistic that will be the case this year, but of course we’ll be watching it very carefully.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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