The 2012-2013 flu season hit early and hard. But now a brief downturn in cases reported at physicians' offices and in schools prompts faint hope the season could be mercifully short. Dr. Lance Lowe, physician at Palmetto Pediatric of the Lowcountry in Okatie, says the flu has been hitting people in Beaufort County hard since early November. Reported flu activity in the state jumped from "sporadic" for the week ending Nov. 17 to "widespread" the following week, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. "They'll go to bed thinking they've got a cold and wake up the next morning with a 102- to 103-degree fever, headache, body aches, cough, sore through and extreme fatigue," Lowe said. Nationwide, 41 states reported widespread flu outbreaks in the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That sort of coverage is common in late January, less so in early January. But flu seasons are less predictable even than the weather, state health officials say.