(NBC) -- While you're doing your christmas shopping you may encounter something you couldn't find last year: The flu.
More Americans are coughing and sneezing their way through the holidays, and a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the flu will likely be around long after the tree comes down.
"I think we're in for quite an influenza season," warns Dr. William Schaffner. "It's starting early, and it's called by this so-called H3N2 virus, it's the kind of virus that produces a more severe illness."
The number of states reporting widespread flu activity doubled last week to eight.
States reporting regional flu activity also doubled.
Hospitalizations due to the flu are higher than normal as well.
The elderly and young children are often hit the hardest.
Last week three children died from the flu, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths to five this season.
Children under the age of 6 months are too young to get a flu shot, so doctors recommend everyone around them get vaccinated.
"We've still got 20 million doses of influenza vaccine in refrigerators across the country, they can't prevent flu until they get into arms," Dr. Schaffner notes.
Doctors say it is not too late to get a flu shot, and that the vaccine appears to be a good match for the especially strong strain that is circulating this year.
If you are one of the unlucky ones who catches the flu, doctors recommend staying home for at least two days, taking acetaminophen for your fever, and drinking plenty of fluids.