(NEXSTAR) – The 2022 flu season is off to an early and vicious start, especially in the South, according to tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has seven states, plus Washington, D.C., in the highest category for flu activity, shown in purple on the map below. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia are all categorized as “very high.”
It’s not much better in Texas, which is in the second-worst category (brown on the CDC map).
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the number of people testing positive for influenza and the number of hospital visits for the flu both increased from late October into early November.
At least 546 Texans have died from pneumonia and/or influenza so far this flu season. Most of those deaths are in the 65-and-over population, but two children have also died.
Behind Texas and Maryland are five more states in auburn: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey and New Mexico.
Hospitalization rates for influenza haven’t been this high this early since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, according to the CDC. So far, there have been an estimated 1,300 flu deaths, including at least three children.
Activity has spiked over the past month. Less than three weeks ago, no states were in the “very high” categories.
All this flu transmission is also happening earlier than usual – the winter flu season usually ramps up in December or January.
Things look better up north; the Pacific Northwest, Upper Midwest and New England all have states in the “minimal” category for flu activity.
The CDC map isn’t based on confirmed influenza lab tests but rather tracks where people are going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms (respiratory illness and fever, plus a cough or sore throat). Because of that, the map “may capture patient visits due to other respiratory pathogens that cause similar symptoms,” the agency explains.
Flu season is ramping up at the same time as children’s hospitals are reeling from an onslaught of young patients with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. CDC tracking shows RSV cases spiking since September.
There may be some good news: COVID-19 cases have been trending downwards and leveled off in the last three weeks, the CDC’s Dr. Jose Romero said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.