CLEVELAND (WJW) — “Our emergency rooms are busier than ever.”

A virus that was overshadowed during the COVID-19 pandemic is making a comeback and with a vengeance.

The flu season has hit the U.S. unusually early and more intense this year, with more than 8 million cases confirmed so far.

With holiday gatherings underway, fears are growing just as fast as infections, as hospitals are struggling to keep up.

During a media briefing Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said, “Hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade demonstrating the significantly early flu season  we are experiencing.”

Flu season typically starts in October and ends around May, with a peak in December or January.

Ohio also seeing an early spike, with cases up more than 52% in just the past week.

“Last week we tragically reported two more flu deaths in children. A heartbreaking total of 14 pediatric deaths have already been reported just this season,” said Walensky.

That included a 13-year-old boy in Cuyahoga County.

The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu and those at higher risk, including those over 65, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.

Doctors say returning to pre-pandemic era safety practices may be vital in saving lives.

Dr. John Christenson, an Indian University School of Medicine Pediatrics professor says,

“Good hygiene, good hand washing, the use of masks, okay, which we know that have worked very effectively,” he said.

This is National Influenza Vaccination Week and doctors say increasing flu cases and hospitalizations should serve as a warning that people need to pay attention to more than covid this winter.