This season is being called the most severe in almost a decade and it's spreading fast.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu has spread to more than 40 states and resulted in the death of 20 children.
Because so many patients with flu-like symptoms are flooding emergency rooms in Chicago, several hospitals are on what's called "by-pass status". That's when the hospitals are turning away ambulances with non-emergency cases, and directing them to other hospitals with fewer patients.
"It definitely feels like our volume has been heavy this year, and I think we're feeling that everywhere." Says Stephanie Wang, M.D. from Rush University Medical Center. Around 150 people have been admitted to intensive care units in the area with the flu so far this season and 6 have died, according to the Illinois department of public health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois is among 29 states reporting high flu activity. 41 states are reporting widespread geographic flu activity for the week that ended December 29th.
Glenn Druckenbrod M.D. from Inova Fairfax Hospital says, "so we're seeing an early spike, at least compared to the past 5 or 6 years, this is very early and we don't know what the peak is yet."
U.S. health officials say the strain of influenza virus going around this year has been linked to more hospital admissions and deaths. One of the lingering questions includes why this season has been so bad, so early.
Wang says, "there's some theories out there. I don't think anyone knows for sure the answer to that question. Sometimes you've got to wait for the whole flu season to complete it's course to be able to reflect back."
One theory is that people are going to work or school with the flu, spreading the virus. "So we really recommend people stay home until they no longer have a fever and have not been coughing for at least a 24 hour period." Says Wang.
Health officials around the country agree that it is not too late to get a flu shot, and if you haven't gotten one, getting one would be a really good idea this season.