Sick: Thousands of people are going to doctors complaining of illness with a severe cough being the most widespread symptom

The U.S. has been hit with a particularly  aggressive early flu season this year with widespread reports of the illness  across the country, hospitalizing 2,257 people and leaving 18 children dead  before the end of 2012.

And health officials say the numbers haven’t  even peaked yet.

‘I think we’re still accelerating,’ Tom  Skinner, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, told  reporters.

The latest figures from the CDC show 29  states and New York City reporting high levels of flu activity, up from 16  states and New York City just one week prior.

Overall, 41 states reported cases.

Sick: Thousands of people are going to doctors complaining of illness with a severe cough being the most widespread symptom

‘It’s about five weeks ahead of the average  flu season,’ said Lyn Finelli, lead of the surveillance and response team that  monitors influenza for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and  Respiratory Diseases. ‘We haven’t seen such an early season since 2003 to  2004.’

During that flu season, Joe Lastinger’s  daughter Emily, 3, died only five days after coming down with the flu in late  January.

‘That was the first really bad season for  children in a while,’ said Lastinger, 40. ‘For whatever reason that’s not well  understood, it affected her and it killed her.’

In that season, illnesses peaked in early to  mid-December, with flu-related pneumonia and deaths peaking in early January.

That season was considered a ‘moderately  severe’ season for flu, and ended in mid-February.

It’s still too early to tell how bad this  year’s flu season will get.

While the CDC is waiting for more time to  pass before classifying the season, Google Flu Trends  has already listed it as ‘intense’ by  monitoring flu activity around the world based on internet search terms.

And roughly 4 per cent of users on Flu Near  You, a real-time tracking tool gaining about 100 new participants per week, say  they’re experiencing symptoms.

‘That’s huge,’ John Brownstein,  an epidemiologist  and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical  School and  Children’s Hospital Boston, told NBC  News.  ‘Last year, we never got near this.’

Brownstein is one of the  founders of Flu Near You, a project,  coordinated by Children’s  Hospital Boston, the Skoll Global Threats Fund and  the American Public  Health Association.

The project has been a great  tool for generating immediate data about the ongoing flu season.

‘It’s what we call ‘nowcasting,” Brownstein said. ‘It’s a more up-to-date view.’

CDC data can be as much as two  weeks behind real-time reports.


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