This year’s flu season has turned into something laced with more danger than health officials have seen in the past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced 15 children have already died of the flu this season, and an additional three have died of complications stemming from an unusually potent strain of the flu virus in Minnesota. A total of 22 states across America have now reported “high flu activity” compared to only 13 states from last week.

The CDC has officially labeled this year’s flu season as an epidemic, and children are especially vulnerable. Seven other children are currently in the intensive care unit at the Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., with high and threatening fevers. The flu always has an underlying life-threatening aspect when it strikes a child, elderly person, or anyone with a poor immune system.

“The flu is always dangerous,” ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said on Good Morning America. On an average year, 100 children die, and so far this year there have been 15, so it’s worth protecting your kids.”

According to the CDC, the flu vaccination prevents flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, while also reducing doctors’ visits and missed days from work or school. Parents don’t often perceive the flu as something life-threatening that could have them rushing their child to the emergency room — but that’s what it’s becoming this season. No parent wants to regret getting their child help before it’s too late.

The flu season has been inching up the calendar, threatening children earlier and earlier. In the last four years, the flu season has been peaking at the end of December. But that was never the norm. Flu season usually didn’t hit peaks until mid-February to early-March, according to Besser. The flu that’s circulating right now is not the same one that the vaccine protects, so why do doctors suggest people should still be receiving their shots? They believe it’s the best way to cut down your risk and provide some level of protection, if any, but they won’t know if it helped until the end of the season in March.

“There is not just one strain of flu out there,” Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., told ABC News. “During the season, other flu strains will become active, and we anticipate that they will match up with the vaccine.”

The type that’s floating around now is the H3N2, according to the CDC, and it can enter into the bloodstream and eventually make its way into the brain. With this year’s strain being particularly severe, it is of utmost importance those at risk with weaker immune systems get their flu vaccine, according to doctors. The flu is unpredictable, and areas with low vaccination rates are being hit hard across the country.