Flu season has started early — these charts show where infections are rising fastest in the US

  • Flu season has started early again this year.

  • Cases of the flu are rising throughout the country, especially in southern states.

  • If you haven't yet gotten a flu shot, experts say now is a good time to get one.

Flu season is ramping up just in time for the holidays.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared new flu data, updated on November 17, which showed that cases of respiratory illnesses are above baseline nationwide for the second week.

"Really what we're seeing is a more sharp increase in activity, week over week, and we know from experience when that happens often times we are entering into that period of even more increased activity," Alicia Budd, the CDC's team lead for domestic flu surveillance, told STAT.

Flu season has started early this year

CDC chart showing percentage of outpatient visits for flu for 2023 compared to the past 5 years.
Both this year and last, flu season started early. Last year it started in October, this year it started in November.CDC

This graph from the CDC shows the percent of outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses each week of the year. You can see that visits for respiratory illnesses like the flu usually sharply increase in December and January. But like last year, this year cases started to rise in October and November.

So far this year, the CDC estimates there have been 780,000 illnesses from the flu, including 8,000 hospitalizations and 490 flu-related deaths — including one pediatric death.

Influenza A strain is currently dominating. This form of the flu tends to cause fewer deaths and hospitalizations, especially in the elderly — one of the populations who are most vulnerable, the Associated Press reported.

Southern states and Puerto Rico are being hit the hardest so far

Map showing where flu rates are currently the highest as of early November, 2023.
Rates of "influenza-like illness" are currently the highest in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Puerto Rico declared an influenza epidemic earlier this month.CDC

While the whole country is seeing increased flu activity, some areas are being hit particularly hard. The above map shows the regions that are currently experiencing the most reporting of respiratory illness.

Southern states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are all seeing high or very high activity.

Puerto Rico is also seeing high respiratory illness activity. Earlier this month, Puerto Rico declared a flu epidemic after 42 people died and over 900 people were hospitalized with the flu, the Associated Press reported.

It's not too late to get vaccinated

One of the best things that you can do to prevent getting the flu is to get a flu vaccine.

The number of adults and children who have received a flu vaccine this year is lagging behind vaccination rates from last year, according to the CDC. So far, fewer than 35% of adults and 33% of kids nationally have gotten a flu vaccine, according to the CDC's weekly flu vaccination dashboard.

Experts typically recommend that anyone aged six months or older get a flu vaccine between October and November, so it's not too late to get one. Flu shots offer protection for four to six months, so getting a shot during this period will maximize your protection during peak flu season.

Additionally, precautions like masking during holiday travel, eating well, and getting good sleep can all reduce your likelihood of getting the flu, as well as other illnesses like COVID-19.

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