Hospitals across the country are battlingÂ what is shaping up to be one of the worst flu outbreaks in a decade, 41 statesÂ have reported cases and 18 states are experiencing a flu epidemic.
Health officials say 20 children have diedÂ and more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized already from influenza thisÂ winter including 14-year-old Carly Christenson, who died yesterday at Children’sÂ Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
With the severe winter cold season justÂ beginning, doctors are advising as many people as possible to get immunized. ItÂ is particularly recommended for the very young, the very old and those withÂ compromised immune systems.
With three more months to go, this fluÂ seasonÂ is already one of the worstÂ in 10 years, according to experts.
‘InÂ the past 10 years we have seen just two or threeÂ like it,’ said Tom Skinner of the federal Centers for Disease ControlÂ and Prevention.
One of the most impacted areas is Boston,Â where Mayor Tom Menino has declared a public health emergency becauseÂ there areÂ at least 700 flu victims in the city, compared to 70 all ofÂ last winter.
TheÂ Massachusetts Department of PublicÂ Health said it has seen 18Â flu-related deaths in the state this winter, four inÂ Boston, andÂ described cases of the virus as severe.
Health care centers across the city areÂ offering free vaccines to anyone who hasn’t yet been immunized.
‘This is the worst flu season we’ve seenÂ since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,’ Menino said inÂ a statement.
‘This is not only a health concern, but alsoÂ an economic concern for families, and I’m urging residents to get vaccinated ifÂ they haven’t already.’
Menino also urged people to stay home fromÂ work or school if they are sick.
Baystate Health, which operates BaystateÂ Medical Center in Springfield and two other hospitals in western Massachusetts,Â announced Wednesday that it was changing its visitor policy.
The hospitals are no longer allowing visitorsÂ younger than 14 and are recommending no more than two people visit a patient atÂ one time.
‘This is the worst in several years,’ saidÂ Dr. Sarah Haessler, an infectious disease specialist at Baystate. She said theÂ flu outbreak has strained the hospital’s resources and helped to fill its bedsÂ to capacity.
As cases continue to surge around the county,Â some hospitals are taking extreme measures to deal with the influx of sickÂ patients.
At one stage on Tuesday a dozen hospitals inÂ the Chicago region were on ‘bypass status’ meaning they were so swamped with fluÂ patients that they had to turn peopleÂ away.
Illinois Department of Public HealthÂ spokeswoman Melaney Arnold says almost 150 people have been admitted toÂ intensive care units with the flu this season and six have died.
‘This season is a reminder of how serious fluÂ can be,’ said Dr. Julie Morita of the Chicago Department of PublicÂ Health.
Elsewhere hospitals are also taking extraÂ precautions including limiting the numberÂ of visitors that patients can have or setting-up tents in their parking lots to treat thoseÂ with only mild symptoms.
Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Pennsylvania has set up a special tent outside of the emergency room on TuesdayÂ to treat patients withÂ flu symptoms after four people died of complicationsÂ from the virus.
The so-called ‘mobile surge tent’ onlyÂ accepts patients with flu-like symptoms.Â It is 1,100 square feet and is equipped to treat six patients at aÂ time withÂ three medical staff.
The tent is only for those with mildÂ fluÂ symptoms while those who have severe cases, need intravenous dripsÂ or haveÂ underlying health conditions are taken into the hospital.