Flu season is off to its earliest start in almost a decade, and that could signal rough, tissue-filled days ahead. Five Southern states saw a high number of doctor visits for flu-like symptoms in late November, months earlier than usual, and that has federal health officials warning that we could be entering the worst flu season in several years, the Wall Street Journal reports. Worse still: A particularly unpleasant flu strain, H3N2, is at the forefront this season.
That strain apparently often arrives early, though the CDC hasn't given a reason for the rash of cases. Flu season hasn't come this early since 2003-04, a year when 48,600 people died, more than twice the average number. But that year, the flu vaccine wasn't a good match for the leading strain—whereas this year, it's a 90% match with H3N2, making it a good shield against the virus. Some 37% of the US has gotten a flu shot; the CDC recommends one for everyone six months and older. (Read more influenza stories.)