Flu hits early and hard, especially in South, CDC says

Southern states are grappling with an early jump in flu cases, public health officials reported this week.

“This is the earliest regular flu season we've had in nearly a decade, since the 2003-2004 flu season,” said Thomas Frieden, M.D., the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a conference call Monday.

Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have reported high levels of flu activity, officials said. During flu season, the peak times generally come after the year-end holidays, or even as late as February or March. The earlier beginning of the season means that many adults who may have it on their “to-do” list haven't received the vaccine yet.

While around 48% of those over six months of age received a flu shot last year, it's estimated up to 90% of healthcare workers opt for the vaccine, officials said, though that percentage is widely recognized as significantly lower in long-term care settings.

Around 24,000 Americans die each year from complications from the flu, according to the CDC.