Flu season hitting hard in the South

(AP Graphic)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Health experts expect this year’s flu season to be more severe.

Dr. J.O. Patterson, III with Methodist Healthcare in Memphis said his office saw 15 cases of the flu this past week.

“That’s a lot yeah. We saw none the prior week, and I guess the prior month just a handful, less than 5,” said Patterson.

The Centers for Disease Control’s most recent flu report shows 4 Tennessee border states, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia, have very high numbers of “widespread” flu cases, and say it is striking early this year.

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

“The predominant flu strain has been Influenza A and that seems to be mutating a little bit more rapidly than it has in years past. So I think the change in the virus itself is what’s accounting for the increase,” said Patterson.

Doctors continue to encourage getting the flu vaccine, saying it is the best defense.

Some Mid-Southerners already checked the flu shot off their list.

“You never know what the weather might bring,” said Chrishun Brown. He said he got his flu shot two weeks ago.

While others plan to get it soon.

“If you can do something to you know protect yourself, protect your coworkers, protect the people at the grocery stores that touch the grocery cart that you touched then you should,” said Malley Bailey.

Dr. Patterson said while this year’s flu vaccine has been not as protective as doctors hoped, it will still help.

“Even if you get the influenza after having had the vaccine you still have some protection against it. So the severity and length of the illness may be shortened by you having had the vaccine,” said Patterson.

If you haven’t gotten the flu shot yet, Patterson urges getting it as soon as possible, since it takes a few weeks to start developing immunity to the virus. On top of the flu shot, experts urge washing your hands and staying home if you are sick.

The CDC reported seven children had died from the flu. None were in the Mid-South.

However, in Arkansas the flu is blamed for the deaths of three senior citizens.