The U.S. has been hit with a particularlyÂ aggressive early flu season this year with widespread reports of the illnessÂ across the country, hospitalizing 2,257 people and leaving 18 children deadÂ before the end of 2012.
And health officials say the numbers haven’tÂ even peaked yet.
‘I think we’re still accelerating,’ TomÂ Skinner, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, toldÂ reporters.
The latest figures from the CDC show 29Â states and New York City reporting high levels of flu activity, up from 16Â states and New York City just one week prior.
Overall, 41 states reported cases.
‘It’s about five weeks ahead of the averageÂ flu season,’ said Lyn Finelli, lead of the surveillance and response team thatÂ monitors influenza for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization andÂ Respiratory Diseases. ‘We haven’t seen such an early season since 2003 toÂ 2004.’
During that flu season, Joe Lastinger’sÂ daughter Emily, 3, died only five days after coming down with the flu in lateÂ January.
‘That was the first really bad season forÂ children in a while,’ said Lastinger, 40. ‘For whatever reason that’s not wellÂ understood, it affected her and it killed her.’
In that season, illnesses peaked in early toÂ mid-December, with flu-related pneumonia and deaths peaking in early January.
That season was considered a ‘moderatelyÂ severe’ season for flu, and ended in mid-February.
It’s still too early to tell how bad thisÂ year’s flu season will get.
While the CDC is waiting for more time toÂ pass before classifying the season, Google Flu TrendsÂ has already listed it as ‘intense’ byÂ monitoring flu activity around the world based on internet search terms.
And roughly 4 per cent of users on Flu NearÂ You, a real-time tracking tool gaining about 100 new participants per week, sayÂ they’re experiencing symptoms.
‘That’s huge,’ John Brownstein,Â an epidemiologistÂ and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard MedicalÂ School andÂ Children’s Hospital Boston, told NBCÂ News.Â ‘Last year, we never got near this.’
Brownstein is one of theÂ founders of Flu Near You, a project,Â coordinated by Children’sÂ Hospital Boston, the Skoll Global Threats Fund andÂ the American PublicÂ Health Association.
The project has been a greatÂ 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 twoÂ weeks behind real-time reports.