ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that flu season officially reached epidemic level and data this week shows influenza is now widespread in 43 states – up from 36 just last week.

The CDC reported the quick spread of illness in recent weeks as six children died of the flu last week, increasing this flu season’s total number of childhood fatalities to 21, CBS News reports. Flu-related hospitalizations for the elderly have doubled from this time last year and high levels of illness were being reported from 29 states as of Dec. 27 – up from 22 states the week before.

Although widespread reports of illness have not hit California or New York, flu season may peak soon, Dr. Michael Jhung of the CDC tells CBS News. The Influenza A H3N2 strain is the dominant form of the virus this year, which CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook described as “nasty.”

“It tends to cause more severe illness, both for the elderly and the very young,” said Dr. LaPook.

The current vaccine for that strain of the virus has been rendered less effective than normal this flu season. Health officials estimate the vaccine only protects people for one-third of the normal period, although it is still recommended given that some protection is better than no protection from the virus.

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