By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the first time, government health officials are releasing real-time information on how many people have had the flu so far this season. With millions of people already ill, experts say disinfecting your home after someone is sick is key.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows between 6 and 7 million people have been sick with flu so far this season. Up to half saw a doctor and up to 84,000 have been hospitalized.

Flu activity is now widespread in 30 states. While it’s too early to know how the rest of the season will shape up, government health officials say, compared to last year’s record-breaking season, numbers are down this year, even though millions have been sick with the flu.

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“These numbers are a reminder that flu can cause severe illnesses and hospitalizations. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, we still expect several more weeks of flu activity, so get your vaccine now,” said Dr. Alicia Fry, head of Epidemiology and Prevention Branch Influenza Division.

Because the flu is easily spread from person to person and can live on surfaces, experts say it’s critical to disinfect high-touch places in your home so you don’t set your family up for re-infection.

“Any of the flu viruses that are common, probably one of the most hearty viruses that we see is the norovirus, which can last for weeks on a surface, so you want to be very careful in cleaning sinks, the handles on the refrigerator, doorknobs, counter tops, door handles, cell phones, tablets, game controllers,” Dr. Fry said.

Experts say bleach-based cleaners are best because they can kill even the toughest viruses and bacteria, and it’s easy to make a solution at home.

“The bleach shouldn’t be more than 6 months old,” Dr. Daniel Allan of the Cleveland Clinic said. “Two ounces of bleach in about a quart of water and you want to make it up the day that you use it. If it sits, it will become much less effective.”

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And don’t forget the bedding. That needs to be washed in hot water and high heat in the dryer to get rid of any remnants of the flu.

Federal health officials say the flu strain that’s circulating this season is a somewhat milder virus. It tends to not cause as many hospitalizations and deaths as the kind of flu that dominated a year ago.

Fhe flu vaccine also works better against this strain.

Stephanie Stahl

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