The flu is taking hold of portions of North America earlier and harder than usual, with waves of fever, sore throat, and respiratory problems reported in many places.
In Massachusetts, state officials said that he number of people reporting flu-like symptoms has dramatically increased in the past few weeks, the Boston Globe reported. The number of people diagnosed with the flu has surpassed the peak levels of the past two flu seasons.
Other states have reported high flu counts, and even flu-related deaths. In North Carolina, 14 deaths have been attributed to the flu so far this year.
The spread of the flu is coming earlier this year, health officials note.
“Flu typically peaks around early February,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “Back in 2003, we had an early flu season, and that was the last one that started before the holidays.”
Health officials have advocated for people to get a flu shot, noting that this year’s vaccine seems to be a good match for the virus that is circulating.
“It’s not too late to get a shot,” said DeMaria. “People can do a lot of things to protect themselves. Frequent hand washing, not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with potentially contaminated hands, and staying home if they’re sick to prevent further transmission.”
Canada has also seen a higher-than-normal number of flu cases, CTV noted. The World Health Organization noted the early flue outbreak in North America, attributing it in part to the high number of people traveling during the holiday season.