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Unusually Early Flu Season Intensifies

This year's unusually early flu season is continuing to intensify, federal health officials say.

The number of states now reporting widespread flu activity doubled to eight in the past week, according to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's.

Last week Alaska, Mississippi, New York and South Carolina were reporting widespread flu. Now, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island have joined the list.

The number of people being hospitalized because of the flu is slightly higher than usual for this time of year. That's a reflection of the fact that the season started so early.

In fact, aside from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this is the earliest flu season since the 2003-2004 season, according to the CDC. And that year turned out to be one of the worst, especially for kids.

Three more babies have died from the flu in the past week, the CDC says, bringing the total number of children who have succumbed to the flu so far this year to five.

One big difference between this year and the 2003-2004 season is that so far the vaccine appears to be a very good match for the strains of flu that are circulating most widely. That's important because one of the reasons officials are concerned is that one of the strains is similar to the 2003-2004 strain that caused so much illness and so many deaths.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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