Flu season: It's early, and bad

The Washington Post /

Flu season in the United States is having its earliest start in nearly a decade, and health officials say this season could be a bad one.

Although flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases and the predominant type circulating this year could make this a severe flu season, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But officials said the vaccine formulated for this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far and urged those who have not been vaccinated to get a flu shot.

In early December, the CDC said it was noticing an uptick in flu activity about a month before authorities normally see it, and the earliest since the 2003-04 flu season. The primary strain this season is the H3N2, an influenza A virus that has been associated in the past with more severe flu seasons, with more hospitalizations and deaths.

Influenza often peaks in January, February or even later. This year, it may have happened in December.

Cases of flu have been reported in 29 states. As of Dec. 15, higher-than-normal reports of flulike illnesses had been reported in 12 states, most of them in the South and Southeast.

But this flu season offers two bits of good news, as well.

The flu strains spreading this year match well with this year’s flu vaccine. And the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 21 expanded the approved use of Tamiflu to treat children as young as 2 weeks old who have shown symptoms of flu.