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Flu hospitalizations are rising, and earlier than they have in the last decade, CDC says

CDC officials are urging people to get their flu shot as early as possible this season.
/ Source: TODAY

This year's flu season is already shaping up to be an intense one.

Flu-related hospitalizations are currently on the rise in all age groups, but especially in children, and the upward surge is occurring considerably earlier than it has over the past decade, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, the CDC estimates that 880,000 people have been infected with the flu. Of that number, 6,900 have been hospitalized and 360 have died. The first flu-related pediatric death of the season was also reported this week.

Per the CDC's report, the "cumulative hospitalization rate in the FluSurv-NET system is higher than the rate observed in week 42 during previous seasons going back to 2010-2011."

Lynnette Brammer, who runs the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team, told NBC News that hospitalization surges like this don't usually occur until December, when peak flu season begins.

“We haven’t seen this level of activity this early before,” she said.

Cases of influenza are rising across the nation, with particularly high rates in the Southeast and South-Central areas.

To complicate matters further, the seasonal flu is spreading at the same time that another respiratory virus, RSV, is rising in children.

“We realize the potential implications of the co-circulating viruses all at once,” Brammer told NBC. “We’re taking it very seriously.”

Brammer stressed that everyone who is 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine to fend off infection and serious illness. Certain children should even receive two flu shots. The best time to get the flu shot is by the end of October.

Early data from a CDC report based on Chile's flu season suggests that this year's flu shot is 49% effective at reducing hospitalizations. From 2015 to 2022, the flu shot ranged from 29% to 48% effective.

Even more concerning for this year's flu season, fewer people have gotten flu shots at this point in the year than compared to 2021 and 2020, according to CDC data. But this flu season is expected to be more severe, with fewer of the COVID-19 mitigation measures that minimized the spread of influenza the past two seasons.

If you do end up getting the flu, the CDC recommends using prescription antiviral drugs as soon as possible in patients who are hospitalized, have severe illness or are high risk for severe illness.

In recent weeks, hospitals across the country have been struggling to keep up with cases of respiratory viruses. Health workers are on high alert over the possibility of a "tripledemic" this fall and winter, if COVID-19 starts surging at the same time as RSV and influenza. A COVID recent wave in Europe means the U.S. could soon follow.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to go ahead and get that vaccine now,” Brammer said.