The number of flu cases and hospitalizations is soaring much earlier than usual, say federal flu observers – just in time for the holidays.

The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Friday in its weekly FluWatch report “there was a notable increase in the number of outbreaks and hospitalizations” due to flu in the week of Dec. 10 to 16.

“In keeping with the early influenza activity this season, several indicators of influenza activity are above the expected levels for this time of year,” the agency wrote.

There were 130 flu-related hospitalizations last week -- a sharp increase from the week of Dec. 3 to 9, PHAC said.

“The number of cases is considerably elevated relative to this period in the previous two seasons,” they wrote.

The situation is similar in the U.S., where flu is now widespread in 23 states -- nearly twice the number of states from the week before, reports the U.S. CDC.

The majority of the hospitalizations and deaths in Canada have been among adults 65 years of age and older. But there’s also been an above-average number of children being hospitalized for flu since November.

As well, there were 53 new outbreaks reported last week: 28 in long-term care facilities, 11 in hospitals, and 16 in other settings. That brings the number of outbreaks so far this flu season to 151.

“Consistent with the early influenza activity this season, a greater number of regions are reporting sporadic and localized activity compared to previous seasons,” the agency wrote.

The majority of the lab-confirmed flu cases have involved the H3N2 subtype of influenza A, which tends to cause more severe disease in the elderly and young children.

There has also been “a substantially greater number” of influenza B being reported this year compared to previous seasons.

This year's flu shot contains components against influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B/Victoria, as well as influenza A/H1N1.

However, this year’s vaccine is not an exact match for the H3N2 and the B strains now circulating, Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, told The Canadian Press earlier this month.

With many Canadians planning to congregate over the Christmas holidays – and potentially share germs together – public health officials says it’s important to wash hands often and keep those with flu or flu-like illnesses at home and away from seniors or young children.