The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed this week that the flu season has hit the United States early this year. In fact, it’s the earliest initiation of flu season in nearly ten years.

Cases of influenza have jumped in five southern states- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas- with reports of high case counts also coming from Missouri, New York, and South Carolina. Many of the cases have been attributed to a strain similar to the dominant strain in 2003-2004, a year during which the United States saw flu deaths that were higher than usual. So far this year, deaths have been reported in Idaho, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida.

While some media outlets fear that this early start and specific type of flu mean that it will be a bad flu season, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC reminds us that “only time will tell.” He is also optimistic about the level of preparedness in the United States. This year, the flu vaccine is well matched to the strains of flu seen circulating so far, and we have plenty of vaccines available.

Over one-third of the population has already been vaccinated, and it’s not too late to join them. The CDC is promoting flu vaccination during National Influenza Vaccination Week from December 2-8. If you still need to get your flu shot, check out the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find a flu vaccine near you.

The influenza virus is constantly changing and mutating, making it difficult to predict exactly which strains will be prevalent or when they will appear. To help improve predictions about a given flu season, researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health developed a model to predict the timing and severity of seasonal influenza by adapting techniques used in weather prediction. Perhaps one day we can check the influenza forecast just as we check the weather.

If you are interested in improving flu surveillance right now, register at Flu Near You to be a flu watchdog in your community. Flu Near You puts the public back in public health by asking members to report on any symptoms they have had in the past week. When aggregated, these reports provide an early warning signal of flu spread. By participating, you can help protect yourself, your family, and your community from the flu.

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