LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — In an effort to help quell Southern California’s flu epidemic, one local hospital is asking all visitors to wear surgical masks while in the building.

The effects of the flu on the Southland appear to be worsening each day, with nearly 100 confirmed influenza-related deaths thus far, and dozens more expected by the end of the week.

By this time exactly one year ago, the number of confirmed flu-related deaths was nine.

In hopes of limiting the spread of the flu, Cedars Sinai Medical Center is handing out surgical masks to all visitors as part of its flu-prevention protocol.

The masks have not been an active part of the Cedars Sinai protocol since 2009.

“We’re seeing a very severe flu season,” director of epidemiology Dr. Rekha Murthy said. “It has hit hard, hit early. We are seeing what we typically haven’t seen since the H1N1 epidemic.”

According to Dr. Murthy, Cedars Sinai alone has seen 30 to 35 cases of the flu per week since December. Many of the patients being hospitalized are, surprisingly, reported to be young and middle-aged adults.

“I think what has concerned us is the severity of illness, more so than the numbers, and the types of people that this is occurring in,” Dr. Murthy said. “Otherwise generally healthy people and younger people, that is really alarming.”

While doctors suggest that routine hygienic habits, such as washing your hands and using sanitizer are recommended steps to take in flu prevention, the best step you can take is a vaccination.

Dr. Murthy says it is still not too late to get your shot.

“It takes about two weeks for the immunity to build, and it looks like the flu is going to be around for a while.”

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