As the flu season enters its most active period, early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to a milder season than last year.
As many as 7.3 million people have fallen sick with the flu since the season began in October, the CDC reported Friday. An estimated 69,000 to 84,000 have been hospitalized.
The report offered the first peek at data for the 2018-19 season, which normally runs from October to late May.
In most parts of the country, most illnesses right now are being caused by a flu strain that causes fewer hospitalizations and deaths than last year's strain, according to CDC officials.
Vaccines also work better against it, the CDC’s Dr. Alicia Fry said, which suggests a milder flu season.
“If (this strain) continues to be the predominant virus, that is what we’d expect,” said Fry, head of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the CDC’s flu division.
While any flu activity is alarming, the CDC says, the overall hospitalization rate is 9.1 per 100,000. At this point last year, the overall hospitalization rate was 30.5 per 100,000.
Last season, an estimated 49 million Americans got sick from the flu, 23 million went for medical care and 960,000 were hospitalized.
The CDC usually doesn’t issue estimates until a flu season is over, but researchers have developed a model they believe is sound enough to use during the season.
One positive sign as flu season enters what is typically its worst period: More people have received flu shots this year than last. By November 2018, the CDC estimated that 44.9 percent of adults had been vaccinated. Only 37. 1 percent had done so even by the end of the 2017-18 season.
In the latest data, widespread influenza activity was reported in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.
Widespread outbreak denotes flu or increases in influenza-like illnesses in at least half of the regions of a state.
Regional influenza activity was reported by Puerto Rico and Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Regional outbreak means flu or increases in flu-like illnesses or confirmed influenza in at least two but less than half the regions of a state.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flu is widespread in US with 7.3 million people sick, but experts see a milder season