E. TENN OFFICIALS: Flu season hasn't peaked

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KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- The list of schools closing due to illness continues to grow, but public health officials don't consider that alarming.

Early February is the time of year when flu cases tend to peak, and that doesn't appear to have happened yet.

In fact, by most indications, flu season is getting worse.

"Right now, what I can see is that we have increased cases each week, locally and across the nation, as well,” said Dr. Martha Buchanan, a Knox County public health officer.

The regional health office tracks the flu count in 15 counties across East Tennessee.

"It is on the rise,” said Paula Campbell from the regional office. “We are seeing more cases of influenza type illness from our reporting, so it's out there."

It's too soon to know whether this will prove to be a bad flu season overall, but Knox County health officials said its safe to say a lot of people are suffering right now.

"What we'll see over time is that those will continue to go up, but they go up more slowly and then eventually start going down again,” said Dr. Buchanan. “Until they start going down again, we don't know that the season is over."

Infections from an unexpected strain are booming right now, and are the main agent behind most of the current flu cases.

New federal figures also cite that this year’s flu shot has only been good for about 40 percent of the season’s viruses.

Regardless of the report, public health officials still believe some protection is better than none.

"It’s not too late to get a flu shot, as long as there is flu circulating in the community and there certainly is right now,” said Dr. Buchanan. “It's okay to get a flu shot, it's great and there is still time. It will help protect you over the season."

If you do get a flu shot, you should remember it takes two weeks to build an immunity from when you first receive the injection.

Next year's vaccine is on track for a complete overhaul to provide protection against three new and different virus strains.

Officials hope it will be better protection that this year’s was.

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