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CDC: Flu Season Hits Early and Could Be a Bad Year

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Updated: 12/09/2012 9:50 pm

Dec. 3, 2012 -- The U.S. flu season is here -- the earliest start since the "moderately severe" season of 2003.

Just as in 2003, the nasty H3N2 flu bug is causing most cases so far.

"This could be a bad flu year," warned CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH. "Because of that, we are particularly encouraging people not vaccinated yet to do it."

Fortunately, this year's flu vaccine protects against the H3N2 bug.

The CDC's flu-tracking system shows that flu-like illnesses are widespread in five states:

  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Georgia and Missouri have moderate levels of activity.

Flu-Tracking Systems

It takes time for reports to reach the CDC. Its reports are a week old the day they are made. Other flu-tracking systems are more timely, although not based directly on doctor-reported illnesses.

WebMD's Cold and Flu Map, based on cold and flu symptoms entered into the WebMD Symptom Checker, shows "severe" flu activity in:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota

It suggests "moderate-severe" activity in most southeastern, south central, and central states, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii.

Google Flu Trends, based on Internet searchers for flu-related topics, shows high national flu activity. The greatest flu activity, according to Google Flu Trends, is currently in:

  • Alaska
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Tennessee

The Flu Near You map, based on weekly self-reported flu symptoms, shows high activity throughout the South.

"It is just a matter of time where we will have high flu activity across the nation," says Melinda Wharton, MD, acting director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Flu Vaccine Supply

Vaccination remains the best way to avoid the flu. So far this year, the CDC estimates that 112 million Americans already got their flu shots (or sniffs of the nose-spray vaccine). That would be about 37% of the vaccine-eligible U.S. population over age 6 months.

Manufacturers have shipped 123 million of this year's expected 135 million doses of flu vaccine.

So far, the CDC says nobody who wants flu vaccine is having trouble finding it.

"We are similar in vaccine [supply and demand] to last year," Frieden said. "We did not have a shortage last year, and expect no shortage this year."

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