The flu continues to rage in Connecticut with the state now reporting 3,248 confirmed cases and 17 deaths as of Thursday in an early and widespread outbreak.

State public health officials say the number of flu cases is likely much larger than reported because most people don’t have tests done to confirm the flu or even visit a doctor if they get symptoms.

This season’s flu arrived about a month earlier and with more severity than in the last two years, forcing many hospitals to struggle to keep up with the demand. The percentage of emergency room visits for the flu has increased over the past 10 weeks to a high of 12.4 percent.

Of the 17 deaths so far, 15 involved people age 65 or older, Deputy State Epidemiologist Lynn Sosa said Friday.

In response to a heavy demand for flu vaccines, the state is now making more free shots available to a wider age range of children, Sosa said.

Previously, the state only supplied free vaccines through providers to children under age 5 and to those aged 5 to 18 if they were uninsured or under-insured. Now the state is supplying free vaccines to anyone age 18 and under, she said.

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