TODAY   |  January 07, 2013

Flu has already spread to 41 states

In one of the earliest and worst flu seasons in years, people have already been infected in 41 states. Experts say that if patterns hold, 5 to 20 percent of the country will contract the flu this year. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> getting worse weeks before its usual peak. cases are now widespread in more than two-thirds of the country. here is nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: preschool teacher ashley caldwell has been downright miserable. trying to see a doctor in the middle of a flu outbreak? not easy.

>> it was a three-hour wait there. i thought it would be a little while but not that long.

>> reporter: in crosses, 22-year-old lisa ingrid has been in bed with the flu talking via skype.

>> i ended up having 103.8 degree fever.

>> reporter: already in every state across the country, thousands of people have been affected with 31 states hit the ha hardest. one of the earliest and worse flu seasons in years.

>> this season follows the pattern of other seasons, we can expect 5% to 20% of the population to contract the flu this year.

>> reporter: in some cases the flu can be deadly. in texas, 17-year-old high school senior matt shwolert died after the flu turned into pneumonia and then a deadly staph infection . it can start one to four days after exposure. fever or chills, cough, sore throat and runny nose, muscle aches, headaches and in some cases diarrhea and vomiting. 200,000 people are hospitalized every year with the flu. the most vulnerable are the elderly and very young and researchers believe the flu spreads more easily in the year, allowing the virus to stay in the air longer.

>> wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands and stay home if you're sick.

>> reporter: ashley doesn't have the flu, it looks like she has whooping cough , the worst in 60 years. she'll be out of the classroom for at least a week.

>> well, i just learned that three of my colleagues here do not have their flu shots, is that true?

>> that's right, matt. that's right.

>> natalie, no?

>> not yet, no.

>> never had a flu shot ?

>> never took the flu shot .

>> are you worried that you're --

>> no, i took my flu shot .

>> we're brewing a new -- in savannah.

>> that's right. i know.

>> typhoid savannah.

>> they give them right up on the seventh floor.

>> i'm sure you're first in line every year.

>> you have to be taller than me to get a flu shot .

>> my dvr.

>> downtown abbey.

>> do you think it's like