This year's flu season has kicked in early, with activity up significantly across the nation, particularly in the south and southeast, federal health officials say.
"It looks like it's shaping up to be a bad flu season," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The percentage of aching, feverish folks who went to the doctor with influenza-like illness had reached the national baseline of 2.2 percent, the earliest that has happened in the regular flu season in nearly a decade, the 2003-2004 season. Flu season may start as early as October, but typically peaks in January or later.
Five states reported high levels of flu activity -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Widespread activity was reported in four states, regional activity was seen in seven states and 19 states reported local flu activity, CDC officials said. That was up from eight states that reported local flu activity the previous week.
By contrast, last year's flu season started late, with an uptick in cases not starting until February.
Health officials are urging people to get their flu shots now, including babies older than six months, and all adults and children. Every year, about a quarter of the U.S. population gets the flu and an average of about 36,000 people die.
About 120 million doses of flu vaccine are available this year, Frieden said. About 112 million people have received their flu shots so far, officials said.
The key to avoiding the flu is getting the shot, the experts said.
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