Mississippi is one of six states already reporting high rates of influenza-like illness. As MPB's Evelina Burnett reports, health officials are urging residents to get the vaccine now.
Dr. Andrew Adams, with Hancock Family Medicine, says the number of flu cases has picked up recently at his practice in Diamondhead.
"I've been seeing a lot of cases of the flu, especially recently," he says. "The flu season begins in October and goes all the way through to May, and we're right in the thick of it."
The Centers for Disease Control recently said this year’s flu season may be a severe one. One reason: this year’s vaccine may not be as effective as usual. About half the incidents of the most common flu strain this year that have been tested are different from this year’s vaccine virus.
But Mississippi State Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs says the vaccine is still the best shot against the flu.
"We know that flu is circulating right now," he says. "Even though the vaccine is not as broad in coverage as we would have liked, it's still going to be the best way to prevent the flu."
Dr. Dobbs says other things to keep in mind are to take other precautions to prevent the flu, such as washing hands and staying home when sick.
"And also, if someone thinks they have the flu, they need to seek medical attention immediately, because there are medications that can be taken for the flu that will help reduce symptoms and make people get better quicker," he says.
The CDC says the antiviral medicines that can help reduce symptoms - such as Tamiflu and Relenza - can also reduce severe complications for those at high risk or who become very sick. The medicines are most effective, however, if taken within 48 hours after symptoms first start.
"Usually the course of the flu can last up to 10 to 14 days," says Dr. Andrews. "Taking the Tamiflu will shave off about half of the course of the flu. So instead of feeling terrible for 10 to 14 days, you'll feel bad for about three to five."
Dr. Dobbs says it's not uncommon for Mississippi to have higher rates of the flu early in the season.
"We are seeing flu activity in multiple places throughout the state," he says. "So we know it's here, we know it's time to be careful. If someone has had their flu shot yet, please go ahead and do it and then take those other measures. Every state is going to be at our level pretty soon most likely, so it's not necessarily unexpected - it's just a good reminder we need to stay vigilent."
Dr. Dobbs says flu shots are available through any county health departments, as well as through pharmacies and private providers.
"They're still abundantly available, so please get your flu shot," he says.