With the flu widespread across much of the country far earlier than normal, federal health officials are warning people with developmental disabilities to be particularly cautious.

Currently, 47 states are reporting widespread flu activity, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which was released Friday.

Typically flu season peaks in January and February. This year the illness hit about a month ahead of schedule, CDC experts said.

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Health officials are urging people with disabilities to be especially vigilant. While no more likely to get the flu than typically developing individuals, those with neurologic conditions like intellectual disability and cerebral palsy are more prone to hospitalization and even death as a result of the illness.

“We’re seeing similar patterns that we have seen in the past which is that people with neurologic conditions are at higher risk for complications,” said Georgina Peacock, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the CDC, who indicated that those within this population should be on “high alert.”

Specifically, Peacock said that people with disabilities and their caregivers should make sure they’ve gotten a flu shot to help ward off the virus. Additionally, if flu symptoms like cough and fever present, those with disabilities should contact their doctor immediately. Early treatment with antiviral medication can make the illness less severe, experts say.

So far this flu season, 20 children and an unknown number of adults have died from the flu. And, at least 22 children and 84 adults with neurologic disorders have been hospitalized, federal data indicates.

CDC officials say they have no way to predict if flu cases will continue to increase or if they will taper off.

“The only thing predictable about flu is that it’s unpredictable,” said Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “Only time will tell us how long our season will last and how moderate or how severe this season will be in the end.”

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