WASHINGTON - Flu activity is picking up in Virginia and Maryland, according to the states' health departments, as federal health officials predict a bad year for the flu.
The dominate strain of the flu virus circulating is H3N2. This strain has caused more severe flu seasons in past years when the strain was circulating, says Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The peak of the flu season is typically mid-January through February but the season has struck early this year, which is also common with the H3N2 strain, according to the CDC.
"While flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we're seeing suggest that this could be a bad flu year," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden during a December flu press conference.
"When someone has the flu, they have a pretty rapid onset of fever, severe muscle aches and coughing," Skinner says. "It's almost as if they've been hit by a train, is how people describe it."
Skinner says the best defense is still the flu shot.
"Vaccination is really important. It's the simple most important thing that someone can do to protect themselves from getting the flu. So we want to make sure everybody has gotten vaccinated this year, everyone over the age of 6 months old," he tells WTOP.
Skinner says the vaccine is 60 to 70 percent effective for most people.
"People who have been vaccinated and still come down with the flu tend to have a less severe form of the disease. And it can also help prevent some of the real serious secondary complications that sometimes accompany a bout of the flu," Skinner says.
Complications can include bacterial pneumonia, which can become life-threatening. Children younger than 5, adults ages 65 and over, pregnant women, and those with a chronic health condition and the morbidly obese are at a greater risk for complications.
In Virginia, the number of flu cases spiked the week ending Dec. 22 compared to the prior week. Data for the last week of December was not yet available Wednesday.
The Virginia Department of Health is reporting that flu activity in the state is widespread. Southwest Virginia had the biggest spike in cases. And patients ages 5 to 18 had the most cases of the flu, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
The Maryland Department of Health reports that flu activity is moderate the same week ending Dec. 22 with 1,269 confirmed cases of the flue, up from 639 cases the week before.
Patients ages 5 to 24 had the highest number of office and emergency room visits for flu symptoms, according to Maryland's weekly flu report.
Similar information was not available for the District of Columbia Wednesday.
Skinner says the CDC Flu View tracking map is showing more influenza activity in the South and Eastern regions of the country.
WTOP's Randi Martin contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
WTOP takes an all-electric motorcycle for a test drive. (Video)
Cuomo to Kardashian: You might be breaking the law.
Octogenarians are racing to become the oldest to climb Everest.
This fox plays like a cat when he gets his paws on a golf ball. (Video)