By Rick Ritter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Millions are already being impacted by the flu this season, according to new numbers put out by the Center for Disease Control.

At least 30 states reported widespread activity last week, local hospitals here in Maryland are now on high alert.

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During the first week of January, Maryland was slapped with the label of high intensity for influenza-like illnesses.

So far this season, CDC numbers show as many as 9.6 million people have been sick with the flu.

Nationwide, up to half saw a doctor and tens of thousands were left hospitalized.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of flu-like illnesses,” said Dr. Jeremy Thomas, with University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham.

Local hospitals in the area are all over the numbers. Some, including University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake, are now implementing visitor restrictions, desperate to limit the spread.

“Flu restrictions are instituted once we have at least 10 percent positivity of flu tests in hospital,” said Dr. Leonardo Girio-Herrera, an infectious disease physician.

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This now includes no visitors under 18 permitted to inpatient units, and those with flu symptoms are not permitted at all.

“Last year was a really heavy flu season, so far this year, it started later than last year,” Dr. Girio-Herrera said.

While it is too early to tell how the numbers compare to last year’s record-breaking totals, doctors are urging those with flu symptoms to stay out of the ER- and instead go to your primary or urgent care- reminding them that most healthy adults can be treated quickly without overcrowding the ER.

“Most healthy patients who have no other significant medical issues are adequate at just treating at home with good hydration and over-counter medications to treat symptoms,” Dr. Thomas said.

Doctors said they are still expecting several more weeks of flu activity, and if you didn’t get your flu shot you still have time to get it.

They also say children under five-years-old, people over 65-years-old and those with underlying health problems are among high-risk groups that should consider an ER visit for the flu.

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Rick Ritter