CHATTANOOGA, TN. (WRCB)  --  "It's peace of mind, and I don't come down with the flu, I've not ever had the flu," says Garland Porter.

People like him get the flu shot every year and it's paid off.

"I have never gotten the flu or got sick," says Mary Dyer.

Still, some choose to take a chance.

"I know people that are firmly against getting the flu shot and never get it, and they get the flu sometimes," she says.

However, health officials say this year may not be the year to take that chance. In Hamilton County, the number of patients with flu-like symptoms shot up since Thanksgiving.

"Significantly increased amount of flu," says Margaret Zylstra with the Hamilton County Health Department.

She says the typical flu season begins around January or March.  

Last week in McMinn County, with only 79 percent of students and staff in attendance, Etowah City Schools shut down. On Monday, Bledsoe County schools were closed due to illness.

"We may be having a wave now and it may go down again and it may reappear in higher numbers again in February and March," Zylstra says.  

She says the best way to protect yourself is to take preventative steps, like the vaccine. While it's not 100 percent effective, Zylstra says the vaccine is the best way to keep from getting the flu.  

"Typically, if people get a flu-like illness after being vaccinated they will have a much milder illness," says Zylstra.  

Even if you've already had the flu experts say it's never too late to get vaccinated. In Tennessee, Influenza A is the predominant flu strain going around.

"We are definitely seeing that the flu is circulating in our community," Zylstra says.  

Zylstra says other preventative measures like washing your hands a couple times a day and staying away from people who are sick can also keep the flu from spreading.