It’s hard to believe, but we’re not even at peak flu season yet.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the virus reached an epidemic level last week (and has dipped back down this week) typically influenza becomes most widespread in February. 

That makes this year’s flu season seem particularly cruel. It’s already at widespread levels in 43 states; a total of 21 have died from it so far; and hospitalization rates are significantly higher than they were last year around this time, according to a report issued on Monday from the CDC.

Certain emergency departments are overwhelmed with flu patients, such as in Michigan and in Delaware.

Why is this year’s flu so dire? It may have to do with its strain, H3N2, which the CDC says accounts for more than 95 percent of all influenza reported. This strain has mutated and deviated from the vaccine that was produced to inhibit its spread, says CBS News.

Still, a flu shot can help to protect against the virus, so it’s important that we all get one. Don’t just take my word for it: the CDC and other health officials will definitely back me up. It’s also crucial that you seek antiviral treatment if you’re a high-risk flu patient (such as an elderly person or child, or are pregnant).