Harsh Strain of Flu Arrives Early Health Officials Urge Vaccinations for the Elderly, Chronically Ill

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A harsh flu strain has already made an appearance this year in 17 states, even though the season for fevers and aches has barely begun.

On Thursday, federal health officials recommended vaccinations for people at highest risk of death from influenza, including the elderly and people with chronic diseases. Through late November, health officials in three states reported Beijing flu outbreaks; 14 states reported sporadic cases.

"When the predominant strain is the Beijing, a lot of the population tends to be susceptible," said Nancy Arden, chief of influenza epidemiology for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Things seem to be happening a little bit earlier than usual this season."

In Europe, outbreaks of the Beijing flu occurred as early as October in England, Scotland and Finland, the agency said.

"Their season was unusually early," Arden said. "In October, they were seeing what we were seeing in November. …