Tennessee reaches highest number of flu cases this year


SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - The flu bug is going around and schools in East Tennessee are being canceled because of the widespread illness.

The entire country is reporting elevated levels of the flu. Since October, the southeast region has more than 1,100 flu cases that were reported to public health labs. However, it is still lower than the west which has more than 3,400 cases reported. Now, Tennessee flu rates are picking up. News 5's Kristi O'Connor has been tracking down the numbers. In the last week of January, there more than 400 cases of the flu in the Tri-Cities alone. Numbers show Tennessee is likely hitting its peak in the flu season right now. Tennessee recorded a 4.35 percent flu rate. Dr. Stephen May at the Sullivan County Health Department says anything above 2.1 percent means flu season is here. "It's widely circulating at this point in time,"Dr. May said. Bristol, Tenn. school officials have noticed the spike as well. They had a drop in attendance a few weeks ago, prompting them to try to stop it from spreading more. "We contacted our cleaning service and asked them to take extra precautions in wiping down surfaces and other things that students might come in contact with a lot," Bristol, Tenn. School Health Coordinator Rebecca Craddock said. Since respiratory bugs are spread by hand and eye contamination, health officials say be sure to cover your mouth, wash you hands and use hand sanitizer often. Dr. May says your best chance of avoiding the flu this season is to get vaccinated, but keep in mind it takes about two weeks to kick in. "If you got your flu shot today and got the flu tomorrow, the shot didn't give it to you, you had it circulating in you already," Dr. May said. With the southeast recording five child deaths, the highest in the nation, from the flu since October, it is even more important to take the symptoms seriously. "Because you don't know which one is going to be the tragedy, that results in the death versus the one that is down for a few days then gets back up. You can't predict that," Dr. May said. If you do have flu-like symptoms you should go to the doctor, you can get an antiviral that can shorten the duration of the sickness by about two to three days. It also prevents complications in people who have secondary conditions, in addition to the flu.