BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As people get ready to head to holiday gatherings in the coming weeks, the state of Alabama is looking at rising flu cases, which has local doctors very concerned.

The latest numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health show over 20 people have died as a result of the flu this season.

Doctors say this year’s flu season is the most severe they’ve seen in a while. Although flu activity is rampant across the state, they say it is preventable in many cases.   

“This is the highest activity this early in the season since the H1N1 pandemic,” said Dr. Wes Stubblefield, a District Medical Officer for ADPH.

While ADPH tells the data was delayed due to technical problems, the numbers do reveal a rough flu season with 24 flu-associated deaths reported — 21 were adults and three of them were children.

“When you talk about 3 kids dying from the flu, as a parent, that makes me think, what a horrific situation to be in,” said Dr. Amy Illescas, Owner of Total Care 280. “You would never expect the flu to kill your child, but that means vaccinations are even more important for children or people who are specifically elderly.”

Dr. Illescas says the flu can affect people severely even if you’re not considered high risk. She says it’s always important to consider preventable measures to protect yourself and others such as masking up, washing your hands and staying home if you feel sick.

“Because you never know if they live with someone who has immunocompromised – they’re taking chemo, they have a transplanted organ and there are people who are vulnerable in ways that you can’t imagine,” said Dr. Illescas. “So just being protective of those around you if you don’t feel good is really important.”

APDH officials and Dr. Illescas say the flu vaccine seems to be very effective this year and highly recommend getting it as soon as possible.

“So knowing your risk factors, knowing how to get treatment, when to get treatment, and get the vaccine,” said Stubblefield. “And it’s not too late to get either vaccine. I’d go ahead and get it because we know that although one dominant strain is circulating right now, it could switch over to another.”

Dr. Stubblefield says it’s hard to tell exactly how and where flu cases are being spread but to be aware respiratory viruses generally spread in close contact situations where people are gathering and sharing air.