NEW YORK (WABC) --The latest flu tracking shows a dramatic increase in the number of influenza cases in the Tri-State area.
In New Jersey, the worst of it is in the counties along the Hudson and the Atlantic, plus cases in all 8 counties in Connecticut, and in New York, the highest number is in parts of the city, on Long Island, and in Westchester and Putnam counties.
Hospitals are now changing their flu-fighting tactics.
"Flu-like illnesses are starting to ramp up," said Dr. Anil Vaidian of the Rockland County Health Department, where they've been watching the numbers: a sharp increase in confirmed influenza cases means we are in peak flu season.
"Influenza-like illnesses, hospitalizations, we didn't see a lot of that in say November, December," said Dr. Vaidian.
The state health department has declared the flu prevalent in New York. According to the latest data, there were over 1,000 cases reported the first week of February, 77 percent more than the week before.
204 people were hospitalized, an increase of 49 percent. So far no pediatric deaths have been reported.
But the new numbers mean new rules. At Nyack Hospital, visitors with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, fever, will not be allowed in. Patients are limited to two visitors at a time, and no one under the age of 13 will be permitted to see a patient.
"Some of our patients are quite sick and they can be more vulnerable to some of the severe effects of the flu which can be very severe," said Dr. Johnny Kwon of Nyack Hospital.
Visitors are encouraged to wear face masks which are readily available. But during flu season they're an absolute requirement for some employees.
State regulations require healthcare workers who are unable or unwilling to get a flu shot to wear masks. The effectiveness of this year's vaccine hasn't been determined, but experts insist it's important to get one.
"There's a smaller population or a subset of people that can actually become infected and perpetuate and transmit the virus," said Dr. Vaidian, who says the late start could mean a late end to the flu season, with new cases possible well into May.