Flu season has earliest start in more than 15 years

PARKERSBURG, W.Va (WTAP) The holiday season isn’t the only season we’re going through. It’s also flu season.

You might think it’s too late for your vaccination, but if you missed your fall flu shot, don’t worry.

The winter flu season is officially underway, marking the earliest start to the period of widespread sickness in more than 15 years.

Doctors in the Mid-Ohio Valley remind us that you still have time to get this protection.

You really do need a new flu shot every year because the strain of influenza varies from year to year.

The flu vaccination is especially important for very young children over the age of six months as well as pregnant women and adults over age 65.

And for those older than 65, there’s a high-dose flu vaccine that provides extra potency in fighting influenza.

According to the Associated Press, the last flu season to be in full swing this early was in 2003-2004. That flu season saw more than 48,000 deaths in the U.S., making it one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades, the AP reported.

The winter flu season in the United States can begin as early as October or November, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can end as late as May.

Health officials consider a flu season to be in full swing when a significant percentage of doctor’s office visits are due to flu-like illnesses for at least three weeks in a row, the AP reports.

The CDC estimates that there have already been at least 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 flu hospitalizations and 910 flu deaths between October 1 and November 30.

An early start to the flu season could signify it's going to be a bad one, but health experts told the AP it could be too soon to tell how the 2019-2020 flu season will go.

What's surprising, so far, for this flu season is the type of virus that is causing the early start. The CDC says flu activity is being caused mostly by influenza B/Victoria viruses, which is unusual for this time of year. This particular strain of viruses is hard on children and people younger than 50 years old.

The CDC says flu season is just getting started and elevated flu activity is expected to continue for weeks, so be sure to get your flu shot if you haven't yet.