As flu cases mount, health officials urge sick to stay home

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NEW YORK (CBS) With this year's flu season one of the worst on record, federal health officials are urging anyone who is sick to stay home. More than 60 children have died from the virus and the CDC says the season may not have peaked yet.

Three year-old Alivia Viellieux died Monday in Indiana after testing positive for influenza. She is one of 63 children who has died from the virus so far this year compared to 20 at this point last year. In new jersey, the North Bergen School District is disinfecting its school buildings while the health department investigates whether the death of a 5-year-old girl there was flu-related.

"It's very painful to see a little girl just starting her life and passing this way," said Martha Claudio, a neighbor of the victim.

The CDC says 1 in 10 deaths in the U.S. is currently due to influenza or pneumonia, and one in 13 doctor visits last week was for flu symptoms.

"You're probably contagious for 5-7 days after you're really sick," said Dr. Lolita McDavid with Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

More than 17,000 people in the U.S. have been hospitalized for flu-related illnesses since October and the CDC says it may be several more weeks before we see the worst of it.

The CDC says seek immediate help if you develop flu symptoms that include persistent high fever, breathing problems, and a rapid heartbeat.

"If you think you're getting better and then it's not getting better then you really need to seek medical attention because it may have now gone into your lungs and you may now have a pneumonia," Dr. McDavid said.

And health experts say its not too late to get flu shot. While the vaccine appears to be less effective against the H3N2 flu strain dominating this season, it still could lessen the severity of the illness.

Health experts also say washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than using hand sanitizer at preventing the spread of the virus, but hand sanitizer is still better than nothing.