A particularly early flu season hospitalized 2,257 and left 18 children dead before the end of 2012, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the numbers haven't even peaked yet. Experts indicate that this flu season began roughly five weeks prior to average years.

The latest CDC figures indicate that 41 states have seen reported flu cases — 29 of which are reporting high levels of flu activity, up from 16 states just one week prior.

Illinois is one of those states experiencing high numbers of reported flu cases. In fact, between Sept. 30 and the end of 2012, nearly 100 people spent time in intensive care units of Chicago hospitals with flu-like symptoms, according to the city's Department of Public Health. Comparatively, only one person had been sent to the ICU with similar symptoms in all of 2011.

Illinois' neighbor to the north, Wisconsin, has also been hit hard by the early seasonal flu. The Today Show reports that there are more than 1,200 people occupying already crowded hospital beds throughout Milwaukee alone. Area doctors are saying this is the worst flu outbreak in 20 years.

Those affected by the flu are reporting:
• Cough is this year's most frequently reported symptom at 19 percent
• Sixteen percent of those with flu report a sore throat
• Fifteen percent experience fatigue
• Fourteen percent complain of headache
• Body aches plague 10 percent of patients
• Seven precent report fevers
• Three out of four people with the flu had not been vaccinated

Best ways to prevent the flu:
• Doctors recommend getting the flu shot
• Washing hands properly and regularly is essential (click here for proper handwashing techniques)
• If you have symptoms of the flu, stay home until you are well to prevent spreading the infection
• Wait at least 24 hours after a fever before returning to daily activities
• Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces to prevent spreading the infection

Click here for national coverage of the flu.
Click here for additional reporting about Chicago hospital operations.
Click here for flu reports from Wisconsin.