The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released information saying that the seasonal flu has begun earlier than usual—and is expected to be severe, especially in the country's south and southeast. More from NBC News:
"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.
Image: Box of tissues, via Shutterstock