JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Doctors have recently seen more people visiting their offices complaining of flu-like symptoms, an unwelcome sign that the flu season has arrived early.
In fact health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say this is the earliest start to the flu season in nearly nine years.
The number of suspected flu cases has jumped in almost every state neighboring Arkansas, and now local doctors are encouraging even more people to get vaccinated.
"The states directly surrounding Arkansas have a seen a high level of interest," said Dr. Travis McClure, who is an attending physician at a St. Bernards First Care Clinic in Jonesboro. "Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana all have high activity, so we expect soon that we will start seeing a lot more cases of the flu."
Dr. McClure says his clinic has already seen a few cases of the flu, but that is not unusual.
"Last year, in particular, was a very late and mild flu season," McClure said, "and so this year we may see an earlier or worse flu season, but we won't know until we get a little bit more into it."
At least five states have so far seen higher-than-normal reports of the flu, which usually does not happen until after the holidays.
CDC officials, however, say the good news is that nation seems more prepared.
The latest numbers show that about one in three Americans has gotten a flu shot, but Sandra Beeler is not among them.
"A couple years ago, when they first combined the H1N1 with the regular flu strain, I took the shot and had a terrible reaction," Beeler said.
Beeler, a nurse, says that a reaction like hers, that included severe nausea, is incredibly rare.
Her experience aside, she says her family members have yet to miss getting their flu shots each year.
"The flu can be deadly," Beeler said. "In some people, it leads to pneumonia and things that can be life-threatening, so I want to protect them. Of course with me not getting the shot, if they get the shot, it helps decrease my chances of getting the flu since I don't get the protection."
Because of these early signs of a potentially bad flu season, doctors are encouraging more people to get their flu shot now.
They say that is the key to fighting the virus, especially for those most at risk like young children, the chronically ill and the elderly.
Experts also advise people to cover their mouths when they cough and wash their hands often to further prevent getting sick.
To track the latest flu trends, click here.