In the U.S., flu season is off to an early and brutal start. Though it’s hard to say what this season will ultimately look like, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it could mean an early peak or a particularly rough one, especially for the little ones.
Last week, the CDC reported it had seen a significant number of doctor’s visits due to flu-like illnesses for three consecutive weeks. On Friday, it estimated there have already been 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalizations and 900 flu-related deaths nationally. The early outbreaks—which have affected six Southern states most intensely—show the earliest flu season start since 2003-04, which was a nasty season, according to the Associated Press.
While there are different viruses that cause influenza, one common strain that has caused a majority of the early illnesses this year is concerning health officials, as it typically doesn’t appear until March or April. This virus tends to be generally tougher on children and people younger than 50. There have been six influenza-associated pediatric deaths so far this season.
Last year’s flu season started off mildly, but became the longest in a decade, according to AP. With preliminary estimates of 49,000 flu-related deaths and 590,000 hospitalizations in the 2018-2019 season, it wasn’t as deadly as the 2017-2018 season, which caused an estimated 61,000 deaths and 810,000 hospitalizations.
CDC officials said December may be the peak of the season, which is typically in February. Though it’s difficult to predict how effective the flu vaccine will be this season, the CDC urges everyone 6 months and older to get the shot, since it’s still the best way to prevent the virus.