UPDATED: January 9, 2018  10:34 AM

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Today officials with Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) confirmed seven more flu-related deaths, bringing the total in that county this season to 18.

Six of the victims were city of Dallas residents. The 7th victim lived in Garland. The patients ranged in age from 47 to 88 years old and all had underlying health conditions that put them in a “high risk” catagory.

DCHHS Interim Director Ganesh Shivamaiyer is urging, “If you have a high risk condition, remember to stay away from individuals who have flu like symptoms.”

While the flu season from October until April, DCHHS medical director Christopher Perkins said the number of cases started to climb earlier than usual this year. “We usually see peak activity in January or February of a given year,” he said. “Unfortunately we had an early peak of flu activity in Dallas County in December. As far as a sustained outbreak… time will tell.”

Since last week, about half of the patients at Methodist Urgent Care arrive complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Cheryl Vera-Burkhalter says the waiting room there has been full with patients spilled over from the Methodist Dallas Medical Center emergency room where over the weekend doctors rerouted people with non-emergency symptoms to urgent care centers or their primary care physician. Monday evening the hospital issued a statement that said, “Methodist Dallas Medical Center is no longer at critical capacity and has resumed receiving all patients coming in by ambulance in need of medical treatment.”

Both Baylor Medical Center and Parkland Hospital have also seen exponential increases in the number of people they’re treating for the flu.

Officials at Children’s Medical Center confirmed to CBS 11 News that they’ve treated some 1,500 flu cases in the last month – with 200 of those people seen in the last week. Dr. Vera-Burkhalter said those numbers aren’t typically seen until flu season peaks — in about 6 weeks.

Hospitals and schools across North Texas are ramping up efforts to try to keep people healthy this flu season.

The Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) is taking extra precautions to keep students, teachers and staff safe. As everyone returns from winter break today soap and hand sanitizer was handed out at schools. The district is also sending parents messages, by telephone, text, email, and on social media, suggesting ways to help minimize exposure to the flu.

Administrators with the FWISD are asking students who are sick to stay home, and wait 24 hours after their fever returns to normal before returning to school. District spokesman Clint Bond said, “We know when it comes right down to it it may be that we do have a lot of absences, but this is at least an attempt to try and minimize that.”

Doctors say have to take flu season seriously. Officials with MedStar Mobile Healthcare agree and say this year’s flu season has arrived “with a vengeance.” From November of last year until now, Medstar has had a 611% increase in the number of patients seen everyday who have influenza symptoms.

While doctors say the strain of flu causing the spike can’t be avoided with the flu shot, they still recommend that everyone get the vaccine.

To help prevent the spread of the flu health workers recommend you:

  • Get a flu vaccination
  • Cover your cough with a tissue or cough into your sleeve
  • Wash your hands and keep your hands away from your face
  • Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or appear ill
  • Stay home if you are sick or keep family members home if they are sick
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