Health officials say more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized and 20 children have died already from the flu this winter

Hospitals across the country are battling  what is shaping up to be one of the worst flu outbreaks in a decade, 41 states  have reported cases and 18 states are experiencing a flu epidemic.

Health officials say 20 children have died  and more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized already from influenza this  winter including 14-year-old Carly Christenson, who died yesterday at Children’s  Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

With the severe winter cold season just  beginning, doctors are advising as many people as possible to get immunized. It  is particularly recommended for the very young, the very old and those with  compromised immune systems.

With three more months to go, this flu  season  is already one of the worst  in 10 years, according to experts.

Health officials say more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized and 20 children have died already from the flu this winter

‘In  the past 10 years we have seen just two or three  like it,’ said Tom Skinner of the federal Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention.

One of the most impacted areas is Boston,  where Mayor Tom Menino has declared a public health emergency because  there are  at least 700 flu victims in the city, compared to 70 all of  last winter.

The  Massachusetts Department of Public  Health said it has seen 18  flu-related deaths in the state this winter, four in  Boston, and  described cases of the virus as severe.

Health care centers across the city are  offering free vaccines to anyone who hasn’t yet been immunized.

‘This is the worst flu season we’ve seen  since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,’ Menino said in  a statement.

‘This is not only a health concern, but also  an economic concern for families, and I’m urging residents to get vaccinated if  they haven’t already.’

Menino also urged people to stay home from  work or school if they are sick.

Baystate Health, which operates Baystate  Medical Center in Springfield and two other hospitals in western Massachusetts,  announced Wednesday that it was changing its visitor policy.

The hospitals are no longer allowing visitors  younger than 14 and are recommending no more than two people visit a patient at  one time.

‘This is the worst in several years,’ said  Dr. Sarah Haessler, an infectious disease specialist at Baystate. She said the  flu outbreak has strained the hospital’s resources and helped to fill its beds  to capacity.

As cases continue to surge around the county,  some hospitals are taking extreme measures to deal with the influx of sick  patients.

At one stage on Tuesday a dozen hospitals in  the Chicago region were on ‘bypass status’ meaning they were so swamped with flu  patients that they had to turn people  away.

Illinois Department of Public Health  spokeswoman Melaney Arnold says almost 150 people have been admitted to  intensive care units with the flu this season and six have died.

‘This season is a reminder of how serious flu  can be,’ said Dr. Julie Morita of the Chicago Department of Public  Health.

Elsewhere hospitals are also taking extra  precautions including limiting the number  of visitors that patients can have or setting-up tents in their parking lots to treat those  with only mild symptoms.

Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Pennsylvania has set up a special tent outside of the emergency room on Tuesday  to treat patients with  flu symptoms after four people died of complications  from the virus.

The so-called ‘mobile surge tent’ only  accepts patients with flu-like symptoms.  It is 1,100 square feet and is equipped to treat six patients at a  time with  three medical staff.

The tent is only for those with mild  flu  symptoms while those who have severe cases, need intravenous drips  or have  underlying health conditions are taken into the hospital.


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