Dugas said this year's vaccine is a fairly precise match for the strains that are infecting people.

Blythe said he hopes this flu season is not among the worst. "There are steps we can all take to prevent that," he said.

Blythe and other health experts urge people to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouths when they cough and not share food.

The flu virus is spread through droplets from an infected person. While emergency rooms are filling up with patients with flu symptoms, doctors say there isn't much they can do once people are infected. Most patients can ride out flu while taking Tylenol or other painkillers for aches and fever.

For those at higher risk of complications, such as young children, the elderly or those with other illnesses, an anti-viral medication might be prescribed.

Payne, who works in sales and says he has never had a flu shot, is one person who won't take chances with flu again.

"I feel horrible," the GBMC patient said. "This is the last year I don't get a flu shot."

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Tips for preventing flu

•Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others.

•Stay home from work, school and errands when sick to avoid spreading the virus.

•Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

•Avoid touching your hands, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

•Practice good health habits such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising, managing stress, drinking enough fluids and eating nutritiously.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By the numbers

(In Maryland this flu season)

•Flu-related emergency room visits: 8,332

•Flu-related health care provider visits: 1,672

•Flu-related hospitalizations: 244

•Flu-related respiratory disease outbreaks: 11

•Positive clinical flu tests: 2,362

•Positive state laboratory flu tests: 571

•Flu-related deaths: 0

Source: Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

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