The flu continues to spread quickly across the U.S. and the Tennessee Valley. Hamilton County health officials have seen nine times the number of cases they saw at this time last year.

Dr. Guru Medam practices family medicine at CHI Memorial. He says the flu vaccine is developed based on the previous year's strain.

Last year's strain wasn't very strong, so this year's vaccine hasn't been very effective.

"Even though people have gotten the vaccination, there was only 10% of protection related to the flu vaccine. That could be one of the reasons why the flu is so bad this year," Dr. Medam says.

He also says long stretches of frigid weather along with a few periods of "ups and downs" have wreaked havoc on many people's immune systems.

"The temperatures have varied too rapidly," Dr. Medam explains. "That might have made people prone to viral infections."

Since the flu season began in October, 900 cases of Influenza-Like Illness ("ILI") have been reported to the Hamilton County Health Department. At this time last season there had been only around 100.

"ILI" requires a fever of higher than 100° and at least one of the following:

  • Sinus issues
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat

Dr. Medam says the flu typically affects children younger than five years of age and seniors older than 65 the most. However, this year he's seen cases spanning all ages. To be on the safe side, he's been treating patients regardless of their test results.

"Because of the high rates of flu this season, regardless of the test, positive or negative, if the patient presents with flu-like symptoms, we have been treating with Tamiflu," Dr. Medam says.

Even though the vaccine isn't as effective as last season's, Medam urges everyone to get it. It's not too late, and he says it's still your best defense against the flu.

Also, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands often with soap and water. Dr. Medam says hand sanitizer alone won't work as well.