There is widespread flu activity across the country, and now there is a way to track the illness -- how and where it is spreading -- locally.

All the coughing and sneezing in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater has put the area among the top 10 hot spots for flu activity in the country.

That is according to the Doctors Report Illness Tracker.

The website takes reports from almost one million doctor's offices in the U.S. and ranks them on a severity scale.

Ten is the most severe number. Our area got a 7.5.

Dr. Deepa Verma urges caution, however, when it comes to surfing the web for medical information. She said tracking can be helpful if used correctly.

"This allows patients to be more proactive and say, 'Wow, I live in an area where this is very predominant and what can I do? Maybe I will go get vaccinated. Maybe I will take extra precautions with using sanitizers or washing my hands.'"

A look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map shows widespread flu activity across the map.

Verma said this flu season started sooner, and cases have increased from November to now.

"It's a little more difficult strain that we've been dealing with, so I've definitely seen in my practice a lot more people coming in with symptoms," she said. "They're trying to be more proactive, but it's definitely an earlier onset this season."

Even though the illness can be tracked with a few clicks, Verma doesn't want internet surfing to replace office visits.

"I always tell my patients, listen, you can’t self-diagnose. You have to be careful and make sure you always talk with a practitioner about what’s going on," she said.

Verma stressed what residents can do to avoid getting the bug.

"Boosting your immunity, eating well, getting enough sleep, staying well hydrated, washing your hands. Just simple things," she said.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area ranked No. 1 on the Illness Tracker list.