Flu activity continues to increase across the United States and in Michigan.

The eastern half of the country has been particularly hard hit.  A couple of Michigan's neighbors are the most active states in the country, Illinois and Ohio.

Let's take a closer look at current flu activity across West Michigan.

Predicting flu patterns is difficult.  Total individual flu reports were down at the end of 2012, but serious cases were up.  This often occurs at the end of the year as students enjoy Christmas break. The year end report may not accurately reflect the spread of the flu.  Inconsistent office visits from individuals are always among the challenges of accurately predicting flu activity.

Since September 30, the Michigan Department of Community Health has reported 285 cases of influenza.   These are cases of the flu which have been voluntarily reported from hospitals across the state.  The have been three influenza-associated deaths in Michigan.

Current Michigan flu activity is officially being described as "widespread".  As of December 29, 34 people in Michigan have been hospitalized from the flu.  13 adults and 21 children.

Last winter, cases of the flu reached their peak in mid-March.  Two years ago, cases of the flu peaked in mid-February.  It's possible that cases of the flu for 2012-2013 are peaking right now in Michigan.

The latest report from MDCH shows that the "Central" region (which includes most of West Michigan) is reporting the highest rate of hospital visits for flu-like symptoms.  During the last week of 2012, 8.4% of hospital visits were for flu-like symptoms in the Central region.

The best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu?  Wash your hands and get a flu shot.

Flu shots are still available, but you may wish to call ahead to confirm.  On Friday, WZZM reported:

We called individual Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid locations in the Grand Rapids area, and pharmacy employees report their supplies are gone.  They say the last few days have been extremely hectic.

Walgreens district spokesman Ben Bringedahl says most of his company's locations in the Grand Rapids area should have a new supply by Monday.  He says stores are moving some vaccines around to the locations that have none left.

Learn more about the flu in Michigan.  Read the latest report from MDCH.