Local doctors: This is one of the worst flu seasons - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Local doctors: This is one of the worst flu seasons

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Dr. Chandler Muller with AllMed Physicians says the flu is taking its toll on the community, as it spreads across the Southeast.

"It has been a very, very big flu season for us, for the community. It's one of the worst I've seen and I've been practicing here for over 10 years," he told WSFA. "The strain this year is extremely virulent and has been putting people in the hospital. Actually people have succumbed to pneumonia."

State officials say the number of flu cases has drastically spiked since the end of November.

Alabama is near the top of the Centers for Disease Control's list of states with widespread flu activity.

"We are seeing widespread influenza activity and it started a little bit earlier than we expected. It's starting to really peak so people are starting to report in the emergency rooms that they're seeing more patients come in with influenza-like illness," said Dr. Mary McIntyre, assistant state health officer for disease control and prevention.

"There seems to be a population that it seems to be focusing on as far as having it more severe and that's young adults. So we're telling people to really think about getting those shots. It doesn't matter if they think they're healthy or not. The recommendation from the CDC now is that anyone who is age six months and older should get a flu shot," she added.

According to the state health department, 33% of the suspected flu specimens coming to their labs are testing positive.

Dr. Muller said you need to be aware of a sudden onset of symptoms and see a doctor as soon as possible. The symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, body aches.

"You can go from feeling 'normal' to feeling very sick in just a few hours," he explained. "The sooner we can check you, the sooner we can get you on medications to shorten the duration of the illness and prevent complications from the flu from happening, like a secondary bacterial infection. We always offer family members the preventative dose of the Tamiflu so that they don't get the flu if they haven't had the flu shot."

He says it's never too late to get a flu shot.

"Another way to minimize your chance of getting it is staying away from those who are sick and have the flu. It's very contagious because it's airborne. So when somebody coughs, all these little small particles get out there. People around that sick person will breathe them in and that's how it spreads. Obviously, spraying down counter tops and washing hands real good are the smart thing to do but because it's airborne it makes it very contagious," he added.

CDC officials have said that for the first time since the 2009 influenza pandemic, H1N1 is the dominant circulating flu strain in the U.S. this flu season.

So far, there have been no significant changes in the H1N1 flu viruses to suggest they're spreading more easily or have become more virulent, but CDC officials said they're monitoring for any signs.

Federal officials reported earlier this month that flu vaccinations kept nearly 80,000 people out of the hospital last year and prevented 6.6 million cases of the flu.

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