NEW YORK – Flu is now widespread in all but three states — California, Mississippi and Hawaii — as the nation grapples with an earlier-than-normal season. But there was one bit of good news Friday: The number of hard-hit areas declined.

The flu season in the U.S. got under way a month early, in December, driven by a strain that tends to make people sicker. That led to worries that it might be a bad season, after one of the mildest flu seasons in memory.

The latest numbers do show that the flu surpassed an “epidemic” threshold last week. That is based on deaths from pneumonia and influenza in 122 U.S. cities. However, it’s not unusual — the epidemic level varies at different times of the year, and it was breached earlier this flu season, in October and November.

And there’s a hint that the flu season may already have peaked in some spots, such as the South. Health officials say it’s not too late to get a flu shot.