CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It looks like the flu wants to get a jump on the holiday season.
Although flu season typically does not hit until January or February, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Director Rahul Gupta said it may peak in December this year.
Gupta said flu activity is increasing across the state. Brandon Merritt, the health department's epidemiologist, said there has been a "definite, sudden jump in cases" in Kanawha County.
"We saw about a threefold increase in one week," he said.
Gupta said there are also increasing reports of "influenza-like illnesses," which are suspected flu cases that have not been confirmed by lab tests.
"There will probably be a several-fold increase in the next coming weeks," he said. "At least on the surface, this looks to be a bad flu year."
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control share Gupta's worries. According to a news release from the agency earlier this week, there have been significant increases in flu activity in the last two weeks.
Forty-eight states and Puerto Rico have reported laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, according to a CDC surveillance report published Nov. 30. The United States also reached its "influenza-like illness" baseline during the week of Nov. 24, which indicates those suspected illnesses most likely were caused by the flu and not other viruses.
Other than the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this is the earliest the number of cases in the United States has risen above normal levels since the 2003-04 season, according to the CDC. Last year, that did not happen nationwide until mid-March.
Most of the confirmed cases nationwide are H3N2, a flu strain "typically associated with more severe seasons," the CDC reported.
Gupta said all of Kanawha County's confirmed flu cases have tested positive for H3N2, a subset of the Influenza A virus. Fortunately, it appears this year's flu vaccine does a good job at fighting H3N2.