The United States is in the grip of a widespread flu outbreak - the worst type of flulike epidemics in the last ten years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. The influenza season is said to have arrived in the country earlier than normal.
An estimated 36,000 people die of flu in the United States each year and it kills some 500,000 people annually around the world. Doctors say it is an unusually early and busy flu season in the U.S., the Voice of America reports.
The flu epidemic continues to spread rapidly, upping the number of affected states to 44. The CDC said that the percentage of people visiting hospitals has increased two-fold in the past month.
Tom Memino, the mayor of Boston, the biggest city in Massachusetts, had to declare a public health emergency in the city.
"The latest reports show an increasingly tough flu season," he said.
A hospital in eastern Pennsylvania set up a special tent outside the emergency room to deal with the wave of flu patients.
Several hospitals in Chicago have had to turn patients away and send them to other hospitals in the area, reports the same source.
The last time flu cases were being contracted at this rate was the 2003-2004 season, when the same strain of the H3N2 influenza was being spread.
H3N2 has stronger symptoms than the usual flu, and stays in your system longer, says the Atlantic Wire.
Doctors say if flu symptoms are severe, such as shortness of breath, patients should see a doctor. And they recommend a flu vaccination as the best protection against the illness.
Doctors warn that small children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to serious complications from the flu.
Doctors say they do not know if this unusually early flu season has peaked yet, or if this year's outbreak will get worse.