Though flu season isn't in full swing yet, doctors throughout the state say they are already seeing flu cases trickle into their offices. And while that isn't unusual this time of year, most experts say it is a good idea to get vaccinated against this highly contagious, potentially fatal virus as soon as possible.

"We had one case two weeks ago, in an elderly woman, who did very well," said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital. Flu activity is still low, but "the season is coming," Saul said.

It's impossible to predict how severe any given flu season will be, but the medical community is gearing up.

Shots for the taking

More Information

Influenza facts
Influenza (or flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that may cause moderate to severe illness in all age groups.
Those at particular risk include children younger than 2, pregnant women, those with a chronic medical condition and those over 65.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects 151 million to 159 million doses of flu vaccine will be made available this year in the U.S.
This year's flu vaccine will protect against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B. About half the flu vaccine doses available will also protect against a second strain of influenza B. The CDC is also providing a high-dose vaccine to those 65 and older.
The CDC recommends that children without an underlying medical condition get vaccinated via nasal spray instead of injection, because the spray may work better in young children.
The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months old be vaccinated against the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that flu vaccine manufacturers will provide between 151 million and 159 million doses of vaccine for the U.S. market this season.

Drugstore chains, including CVS and Walgreens, have been providing flu shots for several weeks, and many hospitals and health departments in the region have either started or are about to start their flu vaccine clinics.

Nick LaRiviere, pharmacy manager at Walgreens on Barnum Avenue in Stratford, said his store has doled out flu vaccine since August, and is now seeing a steady trickle of 10 to 15 people a day seeking shots.

"Typically, September and October is when people usually come in for flu vaccine," LaRiviere said. "It gives time for the vaccine to take effect."

Last year, flu season peaked nationwide in late December and was particularly hard on younger people. According to the CDC, those 18 to 64 represented 61 percent of people hospitalized with the illness. In the previous three seasons, this age group only presented about 35 percent of flu hospitalizations.

This year's vaccine consists of two strains of influenza A (including H1N1) and one strain of influenza B. About 77 million of the vaccine doses available this year contain protection against a second B virus. These are called quadrivalent vaccines, because they guard against four types of viruses.

Also available this year is a high-dose vaccine designed specifically for those older than 65, a group deemed particularly vulnerable to flu. Another change this year is the CDC recommending children 2 to 8 get vaccinated via nasal spray instead of injection, provided they don't have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to flu complications. Research shows the nasal spray may work better than the shot in young children.

No way to predict

Doctors are waiting to see what the latest flu season will hold, but said it is impossible to tell.

"If you've seen one flu season, you've seen one flu season," said Dr. Greg Dworkin, chief of pediatric pulmonology at Danbury Hospital.

He hasn't yet seen any flu cases this season at his hospital, but some doctors, including Saul and Sandra Stricoff, an infection preventionist at Greenwich Hospital, said they are already seeing sporadic activity.

"We've seen one case of flu already, in the beginning of September, but it turned out not to be a trend," Stricoff said.

Though flu season typically doesn't peak until winter, "every year is different," Stricoff said. "You never know when it's going to start."

Dr. Michael Parry, director of infectious disease at Stamford Hospital, said he's seen a handful of cases as well.

"You never know in advance what the season is going to be like," Parry said.

He said last year's season in Connecticut was fairly long, lasting into spring, but "it was never very brisk."

Stricoff agreed last season was difficult. "We had a lot of hospitalizations," she said.

There is an added complication this year, as doctors throughout the country, including Connecticut, are seeing an outbreak of cases of enterovirus D68, a respiratory illness that mainly affects children. There has been one confirmed cases in the state -- in a 6-year-old girl who had been a patient at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Other hospitals, including Stamford and Danbury, have seen suspected cases of the illness, which has some of the same symptoms as the flu. However, those who get enterovirus D68 don't tend to have the high fever associated with flu. Also, by the time flu season is in full swing, enterovirus will likely taper off, Saul said.

"By the time the weather gets cold, that will probably be gone," he said.

Other possible risks aside, experts agreed that everyone over 6 months old should get vaccinated against flu as soon as possible.

"You want to get vaccinated before it comes to the area," Stricoff said.

To find out where to get a flu shot, visit http://flushot.healthmap.org/ and type in your address or ZIP code.