Flu season in the U.S. is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade. Health officials said suspected flu cases have jumped in five Southern states, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. But there is some good news!

The good news is that the nation seems fairly well prepared. More than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, and the vaccine formulated for this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far this season. Higher-than-normal reports of flu are in southern states for now. The reports have come in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. An uptick like this usually doesn't happen until after Christmas with all the gatherings and travel that comes with the holiday. Flu-related hospitalizations are also rising earlier than usual, and there have already been two deaths in children.

This is the part that always boggles my mind. So often we think of the flu as a really bad cold, but the CDC says, on average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season.