CDC Says Flu Season 2019 Has Started Early, As Expert Warns 'This Could Be a Precursor to Something Pretty Bad'

Around 2,400 people are estimated to have died and 2.5 million fallen sick as the U.S. flu season saw its earliest start for almost two decades.

Flu season has hit most parts of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which stated the virus has been active for around a month, and will continue to be for weeks.

CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told Newsweek: "This represents somewhat of an early start to the U.S. flu season," and the earliest since 2003 to 2004.

The health institute forecasts flu activity will continue to increase in the next few weeks, with a 40 percent chance that activity will peak in December, "which would be relatively early compared to most seasons," said Nordlund.

Asked whether this season will hit harder than normal, Nordlund said: "Influenza is unpredictable. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one season to another and can vary in different parts of the country during the season."

Dave Osthus, a statistician and flu forecaster at Los Alamos National Laboratory told The Associated Press the early start may mean people get sick at the same time.

"This could be a precursor to something pretty bad. But we don't know," Osthus said.

Osthus told Newsweek the flu season has started about a month earlier this year than is typical, and is largely driven by elevated flu activity in the Southeastern states.

"There is an elevated likelihood of a higher than normal peak this season," he said.

"The main reason is how high flu activity already is," Osthus said, adding: "The 2019/20 season is already worse than three of the past 20 flu seasons ever were, and the worst part of the flu season—historically late December through early March—hasn't happened yet."

However, Scott Epperson, who tracks flu-like conditions for the CDC, mirrored Nordlund, and told AP it is unclear how tough this winter will be. "It really depends on what viruses are circulating. There's not a predictable trend as far as if it's early it's going to be more severe, or later, less severe."

In late October, the CDC reported flu activity was still low but Louisiana and Puerto Rico were experiencing high levels of flu-like illnesses. On a mid-November call with reporters, the CDC told doctors the U.S. was seeing more flu cases than normal, CNN reported.

The CDC's latest flu surveillance report, for the week ending November 30, showed 12 states and Puerto Rico have been hit by high levels of flu activity, and the illness is deemed widespread in 16 states: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

According to the latest CDC #FluView, 12 states and Puerto Rico are experiencing high levels of flu activity. However, some parts of the country are still seeing little flu activity:

— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) December 8, 2019

So far, CDC estimates—based on data collected between October 1 and November 30—the flu has killed between 910 and 2,400 people, caused 1.7 to 2.5 million people to fall ill, and lead to between 800,000 to 1.2 million medical visits, and 16,000 and 29,000 hospitalizations. Six children are among those who have died.

This week CDC provided its first preliminary in-season estimates for the burden of flu so far during the 2019-2020 #flu season. (1/2)

— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) December 6, 2019

Each year since 2010, the flu is thought to have killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people, and caused 9 to 45 million illnesses.

This year, most people are falling ill due to the influenza B/Victoria viruses, which the CDC said was "unusual for this time of year." That subtype is followed by H1N1, and then H3N2.

Influenza B/Victoria viruses are most often reported in children aged between 0 to 4 years old and 5-to 24-year-olds, whereas the A(H3N2) viruses are the most commonly reported in those aged 65 years and over, according to the CDC.

The national public health institute stressed on its website: "It's not too late to get vaccinated. Flu vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk from flu and its potentially serious complications."

This article has been updated with comment from the CDC and David Osthus.

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