A nationwide flu outbreak that has already caused the deaths of at least 18 children and clogged emergency rooms in many states is provoking great alarm across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that this year's flu season is expected to be one of the worst the country has seen in 10 years. Not even at its peak yet, the season “is stacking up to be moderate to severe,” Tom Skinner, a spokesperson for the CDC, said.
“In the past 10 years we have seen just two or three like it,” he added, according to the New York Daily News.
Experts add that this year's flu season is the earliest the country has seen in at least a decade.
As of Tuesday this week, 41 states have reported "widespread outbreaks." States such as Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and New York have been particularly hard-hit.
Earlier this week, The Huffington Post reported that overcrowded emergency rooms in Chicago, unable to cope with the influx of flu patients, have recently been forced to turn people away. Julie Morita, medical director for the Chicago Department of Public Health's immunization program, told DNAinfo.com Chicago that the number of flu cases in the city is growing.
On Wednesday, Boston mayor Thomas Menino declared a "public health emergency because of a sharp rise" in flu cases across the city," NBC News reports. Seven hundred confirmed cases have already been reported in Boston since the season began in October.
"This is the worst flu season we've seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously," Menino said in a news release. "This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families."
In Minnesota, at least two teenagers, including 14-year-old Carly Christenson, died of flu complications this month. Many hospitals in the state are "reporting more flu cases this year than at the height of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak," Fox 9 News reports.
Michigan residents, too, have been feeling the sting of the flu outbreak. According to the Detroit Free Press, at least three children have died, and 285 confirmed cases have been reported in the state as of Jan. 3.
In New York, where at least one child has died, flu cases are reportedly "skyrocketing." According to New York Daily News, there have already been more than 15,000 flu cases reported this season.
Dr. Marc Siegel, author and associate professor of medicine at NYU, told Fox News that the flu season will not peak until the end of the month or in February. Though people who get flu shots may not be 100 percent safe from catching the infection, Siegel advises those who have yet to be vaccinated to do so right away.
Dr. Michael Jhung, a CDC flu expert, concurred.
"We strongly encourage people to get vaccinated, and we'd like them to do that as soon as possible," Jhung told Reuters, adding that the "current batch of flu vaccines appear to be a good match for this year's flu."