Happy holidays! You may be coming back through the woods and over the river with the flu. H1N1 is back. Five people have died from it in Texas, and it is spreading early, and quickly, here in the southeast.

Dr. Teresa Baysden is seeing a spike in cases at the Hixson Doctors Express and adds the timing of the flu and the holidays will undoubtedly make things worse. "The closer people are together, the more they pass the germs around," she said. "We don't normally see flu until, really the large numbers until January, but we really are seeing a large influx in the Type-A strain."

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That strain was identified in 2009, the year it triggered a global pandemic. The very young and very old are usually most susceptible to influenza, but H1N1 is different. "This particular strain tends to hit younger and healthier people," explained Dr. Baysden. "And it tends to be more virulent and it tends to cause more problems."

It causes severe secondary problems like pneumonia, which has also been on the rise in Hamilton County.

"This is a great time to still get a flu vaccine," said Margaret Zylstra, Nurse Manager at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. "It's not too late. And flu vaccination is the best prevention for the flu."

And there are things we can do, habits we can break, to help us stay flu-free, as much as possible. "Of course, the most important step is to wash our hands, frequently; not touching our face, our eyes, nose, mouth," Zylstra explained. "That's how germs can get into our bodies."

Dr. Baysden agrees, it is all about touch. "One thing that we recommend is things as simple as taking your own pen with you," she said. "If you take your own pen you can avoid holding a pen that maybe a hundred other people have held during the day. That's very important."

If you have underlying conditions such as heart or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma or respiratory problems, you are at greater risk for complications with the flu.

If you are around children, doctors urge you to get vaccinated to protect them.

It takes 2 to 4 weeks for the vaccine to power you up to full immunity. Finally, if you feel the flu coming on, go see your doctor, but try to stay away from everyone else. Do not be afraid to call-in sick to work or school.

The Hamilton County Health Department offers free flu shots to uninsured adults aged 19 to 64. Call to make an appointment with one of their clinics.

The flu vaccine is available at the Hixson Doctors Express. They are open 8AM-8PM with no appointment necessary.