CDC: Early flu season is intensifying

This year's unusually early flu season continued to intensify last week, according to the latest update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Widespread flu activity is now being reported in eight states after previously being reported in only four. In the previous CDC update, South Carolina, New York, Mississippi and Alaska reported widespread flu. In the latest update, Rhode Island, Ohio, North Carolina and Alabama joined the list, NPR reports.

The number of people requiring hospitalization for the flu this year is slightly higher than usual for this time of year. The heightened number of hospitalizations reflects an earlier than normal start to the season.

Three babies died from the flu in the past week. This brings the total number of children who suffered flu-related deaths this year up to five, NPR reports.

After the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this year's flu season is the earliest since the 2003-2004 season. One major difference between this year's flu season and the 2003-2004 season is that this year's vaccine appears to be a very good match for the most widely circulating strains of flu.

Officials said that one of the circulating strains is similar to a strain from 2003-2004 that caused many flu cases and deaths.