This year's flu season is turning out to be harsher than recent years in Delaware and around the country.

The Delaware Division of Public Health reports a total of 441 confirmed cases of influenza for the 2012-2013 flu season.  The total cases jumped by 132 during the last week of December.  The number of hospitalizations for flu also spiked at the end of the year, with 45 people admitted for the flu, compared to just 14 the week before.  Statewide, 85 people have been hospitalized with the flu for the season so far.  

The flu is now considered to be widespread in Delaware and 40 other states.  The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 2,200 lab-confirmed flu hospitalizations nationwide since October.

"Flu often peaks in late February or early March, but this year we are seeing an early surge," said Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director.  "It's not too late to get vaccinated and protect yourself and your family.  This year's flu vaccine is especially well matched to the strains of the flu in Delaware and there is vaccine available."

As usual, the flu cases are affecting the young and the old more than other segments of the population.  Forty percent of patients hospitalized for flu in Delaware were 65 years old or older.  As for total cases, 21 percent of the state's 441 confirmed cases were in children four years old or younger.

In addition to urging Delawareans, especially the young and the old to get vaccinated, DPH leaders say you should be extra vigilant about washing your hands, especially after coughing, sneezing or touching your face.  They also say you should stay home when you're sick, and not return to work or school until 24 hours after a fever.

You can find more on the state's efforts to combat the flu at flu.delaware.gov