JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed on Monday that the flu season is off to an early start and the number of cases has quadrupled in the state.
As of Nov. 25, there were 1,545 cases of the flu reported compared to 379 cases reported at the same time last year, a spokesperson for the health department confirms.
Officials said the numbers could indicate that flu season is coming early to the state or that it could be particularly severe.
"This season is predicted to be a little worse than the last year and the reason is we base our prediction on what the flu is going to do on what happens in the southern hemisphere," said Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, an infectious diseases physician at MU Health Care.
Ilboudo said Australia experienced a bad flu season, which leads health care professionals to believe something similar will happen in the U.S.
The Cole County Health Department said it was also experiencing an earlier start to the flu season.
Kristi Campbell, director of the health department, said as of Nov. 25, 31 cases of the flu were reported to CCHD compared to only 1 case reported the same time in 2016. Campbell said so far this flu season is mirroring the 2014-2015 season, which peaked in late December.
"Influenza season is predictably unpredictable and we obviously do not know when cases will peak this year or how severe the season will be," Campbell said. "It's not too late to get your flu vaccine if you have not done so already."
Latest numbers from the Columbia/Boone County Health Department show 73 reported cases of the flu since Oct. 1.
For 2016-2017, there were more than 70,000 confirmed influenza cases in Missouri. A spokesperson for the department said the state could see even more during the 2017-2018 season.
"We know that historically, the intensity or prevalence of flu can vary from year to year. But this year all indications are that we are seeing more flu earlier in the year and we anticipate more cases," said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "Now is the time to get your flu shot if you haven't already. The flu shot combined with proper hand-washing are the two most effective things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones this holiday season."
According to the state health department, one person has died in Missouri this year from the flu. Last week a 20-year-old woman in Arizona died after being diagnosed with the flu, which doctors said then turned into pneumonia.
"People need to understand that it's not just about getting the flu, it's also about the complications that can happen after you get the flu," Ilboudo said.
Ilboudo is urging everyone to get the flu shot this year.
"And just because someone has one type of influenza doesn't mean that they cannot get another one," she said. "I've had patients who have had both flu A and B. They get flu A in November, they get flu B in January."
Some Columbia Urgent Cares tell ABC 17 News patients who have been vaccinated have still gotten the flu this year. Doctors said in those cases symptoms typically aren't as severe and don't last as long.