ALABAMA (WHNT) — The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is urging folks who still haven’t updated their flu and COVID-19 booster shots to roll up their sleeves and get protected. 

Health officials in Alabama are worried about a possible surge in flu-like illnesses after the Thanksgiving holiday and the only protection offered is the flu vaccine.

The state’s doctors and hospitals are overwhelmed in the state because this flu season is hitting hard, and earlier than usual. Flu season typically starts much later, while hospitalizations have doubled for the second straight week.

“We’ve got influenza that’s widespread across the state and it’s going up week after week,” said Dr. Wes Stubblefield, an ADPH district medical officer. “We’ve got over 200 people in the hospital with confirmed influenza.”

The flu is raging out of control just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Alabama health officials are once again sounding the alarm as they try to get ahold of the root of the spread. Four deaths have been reported as people seeking protection against the flu have lagged.  

“We have some people that may be going to work, and they may not be feeling well, and they have kids that have the sniffles,” explained UAB Hospital’s Dr. Rachel Lee. “They don’t have COVID-19, they don’t have flu potentially, and they are still transmitting that illness from one person to the next.”

“Your risk of having a serious case of the flu or even going to the ICU or even dying from the flu does affect some people more than others,” Lee continued. “Generally, it’s those people over the age of 65, to be honest.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported southern states had very high numbers of flu-like illnesses. Last year, Alabama was ranked among the lowest in reporting levels of the flu — this year there has already been a 12% increase.  

In the wake of the deaths of three adults and one child, ADPH is urging that everyone get the flu and COVID-19 shot ahead of family gatherings or a visit to the nursing home.

“Flu vaccines seem to be well matched to the strain, so we’re very much encouraging the flu shot in addition to COVID if you haven’t already done that,” concluded Stubblefield.

Doctors are also reporting that it is growing increasingly difficult to get some of the more popular over-the-counter flu medications — meaning more folks are going to the doctor or hospital for treatment.