Influenza is popping up a bit early this year.

Influenza is popping up a bit early this year.

Doctor’s offices and clinics are reporting an increase in cases of Influenza A in Gulf County in recent weeks as the flu season arrives in force, and a bit ahead of schedule.

“Since we have been open we have typically seen the flu start to show up in November,” said Paulina Pendarvis with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf. “We have heard reports of influenza in the area among pediatric patients which is a little early for this area.”

Pendarvis noted that flu season blossoms in the months from November to its peak in January and February.

What doctors are currently seeing is Influenza A H1N1, said Billy Spencer, Infection Control Practitioner at Sacred Heart on the Gulf.

He said the best way to prevent the flu is simple – get a shot.

The vaccine is readily available and plentiful supply at pharmacies such as CVS and at local physician’s offices. And while vaccines are aimed at particular strains of influenza from year to year, this year’s vaccine has thus far proven to be effective to the strain incubating in the population.

“The vaccine is a good match for what we are seeing this year,” Spencer said. “And a vaccine should cover you all season. You do not need to have a booster later.

“The best way to prevent the flu is the vaccine.”

Health officials encourage everybody to receive a vaccine, but in particular certain populations – those over 60 or babies, those with immune system problems – should receive the flu regardless of general health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the vaccine is effective in preventing flu in 60 percent of those who receive it, but most importantly, Spencer said, it will prevent severe complications, for instance pneumonia.

“You will not end up in the hospital,” Spencer said.

And lest one thinks a bout of the flu will provide the same protection as a vaccine for the rest of the season, Spencer cautions, “You can still get sick again.”

There are other lifestyle choices that will help prevent the flu from spreading, either to you or from you.

Wash hands frequently and use the alcohol-based germ sanitizers where possible.

Avoid large crowds and if you sick, stay home; if your child is sick, keep them home.

“If you believe you have the flu, you want to see your doctor and if you are feeling ill, the best thing to keep the flu from spreading is for you to stay home and take care of yourself,” Spencer said. “If you child is sick, don’t send them to school.”

Keep hand-shaking to a minimum or don’t shake hands at all.

“You still need to take precautions,” Spencer said. “I am not a fan of hand-shaking. That is how people can get the flu. Keep your hands clean.”

And living right, getting the proper rest, remaining hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, exercising will help boost immune systems and assist your body in fighting off influenza.

The primary message as the flu season unfolds: take an illness that the CDC says kills more than 45,000 Americans each year seriously.

“I don’t think people take is seriously, but I will tell you when I actually had a diagnosed case of the flu, I was talking to my late grandmother about not going into the light,” Pendarvis said. “I was that sick. People need to take the flu seriously.”