Health officials report steep increase in flu activity nationwide

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NEW YORK (CBS) The number of states experiencing widespread flu activity has now doubled to 24. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The dominating virus this flu season is H1N1, which tends to impact young healthy adults and children. The CDC is urging anyone over 6 months old who hasn't been vaccinated to get the shot right away.

"It can prevent you from getting sick. And even if you do get sick with influenza, it can prevent you from having to go into the hospital," said Dr. Daniel Jernigan of the CDC. "Among hospitalizations so far this year... the highest rates that we are seeing are in those who are under age 5."

Flu season usually starts in November or early December and peaks in February but activity can last as late as May.

"We actually work with a number of infectious disease modelers and they are forecasting when they think the peak would be and about 75 percent of those forecasts have the peak in late January. But we don't know if that will be the case," Jernigan said.

Government health officials say whenever the peak occurs, it still means there will be many weeks of flu season left. So they say get a shot if you haven't and stay home if you are sick to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Last year's flu season was the deadliest in 40 years and fewer than half of Americans got vaccinated which was a drop. The CDC says early estimates show more people are being vaccinated this year.