"We are seeing a spike in our flu reports, much like most of the nation, including Florida."
Local county health officials say they're seeing flu numbers this season that unfortunately mirror the national trends.
"We are seeing a spike in our flu reports, much like most of the nation, including Florida," said Erik Rappa, epidemiologist for the Santa Rosa County Health Department.
Numbers provided to county health departments are dramatically higher in recent weeks than those during a similar time period one year ago. And while local officials can't say for sure that the flu season is peaking early, they can say that it's here and it's hitting people hard.
In Okaloosa County, twice as many people sought emergency medical treatment for flu-like symptoms in the first week of 2018 as they did last year. Those cases represented nearly 6 percent of emergency room visits, as compared to less than 3 percent during the same time frame in 2017. Health care providers reported six times more positive flu tests this year than the same time last year.
Snapshots of the data from the last weeks of 2017 also showed spikes, according to Kathy Newby, public information officer for the Okaloosa County Florida Department of Health.
Santa Rosa officials were seeing a similar picture.
Rappa said folks started seeking flu treatment earlier this year than last year and the numbers have remained higher, despite the fact that two of the county's three hospitals are not reporting cases due to technical challenges.
"We had kind of a bump earlier and now it's spiking," he said.
Florida is among the 46 states where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting widespread flu activity. Roughly 41,000 cases have been recorded so far, nearly three times more than last season.
Flu A is the predominate strain that’s making people sick this season, and while you may have heard the flu shot is ineffective for that strain, Florida health officials say it is still the best shield against the illness.
“Get your flu shot now,” the Florida Department of Health posted. “Flu vaccines can vary in effectiveness from season to season but they continue to be the best way to prevent influenza infection and serious influenza complications.”
Studies have also showed that people who get the vaccine every flu season are less likely to get hit with severe complications.
No one at the Walton County Health Department could be reached for this story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.