MONDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- The 2012-2013 flu season is off to an early start, and U.S. health officials warn that it could be a bad one.
The predominant strain so far is called influenza A N3H2. Although not new, it is particularly virulent, which is why this flu season might be severe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is the earliest regular flu season we've had in nearly a decade, since the 2003-2004 flu season," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during a press conference Monday. "That was an early and severe flu year. While flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases plus the strain we are seeing suggests it could be a bad flu year."
"It's time to get vaccinated," he added.
In some areas of the country, flu-like symptoms account for 2.2 percent of doctor visits. At that level, the CDC considers the flu season under way, Frieden said.
Five states are hardest hit right now: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Georgia and Missouri are also seeing moderately high levels of flu, Frieden said.
The flu season usually runs from fall through spring, peaking in February.
Fortunately, this year's flu vaccine is an "excellent" match for the circulating flu strains, Frieden said. Based on the usual number of people who get vaccinated, the vaccine should be plentiful, he said.
Currently, 123 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed out of an anticipated total of 135 million doses, he said.
The CDC estimates that 112 million Americans have been vaccinated so far this year, which is about the same as last year, Frieden said.
The CDC urges everyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated. It's especially crucial for pregnant women, children and those 65 and older.
Since infants under 6 months of age can't get the vaccine, their protection is dependent
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