Flu season in the U.S. has struck early and, in many places, hard. From the Rocky Mountains to New England, hospitals are swamped with people with flu symptoms.

Some medical centers are turning away visitors or making them wear face masks, and one Pennsylvania hospital set up a tent outside its emergency room to deal with the feverish patients.

Dr. Ron Walls, an emergency physician in Boston, said he feels this is one of the worst flu seasons in decades.

"It's been easier for one person to catch it from another," he said. "Once they actually have the disease, it doesn't seem to be a lot worse than other flus we've seen. I would say over the last week to 10 days, it's been pretty consistently crazy and (the number of cases have been) dramatically worse than we've seen in years. In fact, I've been here for 19 years -- this is my twentieth winter -- and I've never seen anything like this here at this point of the year."

While flu normally doesn't blanket the country until late January or February, it is already widespread in more than 40 states, with about 30 of them reporting some major hot spots. On Thursday, health officials blamed the flu for the deaths of 20 children so far.

Whether this will be considered a bad season by the time it has run its course in the spring remains to be seen. The evidence so far points to a moderate season.

It looks worse because last year was unusually mild and because the main strain of influenza circulating this year tends to make people sicker and really lay them low. The CDC is expected to release new data Friday.

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