The flu has arrived significantly earlier this year, causing more hospitalizations at this point in the season than in the past decade, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency said Friday that flu season arrived over a month earlier than usual, and flu-related hospitalizations have not been this high at this point in the season since the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.
The CDC estimates that there have been at least 880,000 flu illnesses, 6,900 flu-related hospitalizations, and 360 flu-related deaths this season. The first flu-related pediatric death of the season was also reported this week.
"It's unusual, but we're coming out of an unusual COVID pandemic that has really affected influenza and other respiratory viruses that are circulating," Lynnette Brammer, epidemiologist and head of the CDC's domestic influenza surveillance team, told The Washington Post.
Brammer added that this season's flu vaccine is well matched against the circulating viruses, urging vaccinations as soon a possible.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
The CDC recommends that anyone 6 months or older get the flu shot, with rare exceptions. The flu vaccine reduces the risk of illness by between 40% and 60%.
"I would assure anyone who hasn't gotten it yet that they're not too late," said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told CNN. "The flu season will be with us for at least a few more months. We don't know whether it will be shorter or longer than usual. There is still very good reason to get your protection from the vaccine."
"We can acknowledge that the influenza vaccine is not perfect. It cannot protect absolutely everyone completely against influenza," he said. "They help keep you out of the emergency room, the hospital, the intensive care unit, and they protect you from dying."
The United States has also seen an unusual increase of cases of RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus. The CDC advised parents and doctors to keep an eye out for cases of RSV, particularly in young children, adults over age 65 or those with chronic illnesses.
While RSV usually peaks in late winter, about 71% of the nation's 40,000 pediatric beds are currently filled, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the highest in two years.
The surge has hit states including Rhode Island, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.