While this year's influenza virus has made national headlines over the past few months, the seasonal illness has only recently started to take its hold on the Neosho area.

While this year's influenza virus has made national headlines over the past few months, the seasonal illness has only recently started to take its hold on the Neosho area.

"We're getting reports every day from the local pediatricians and there's several cases every day," said Patti Yates, nursing supervisor at the Newton County Health Department. "It was just probably a little slower getting here than it was on the national scene."

Just last week, the Westview C-6 School District, located off U.S. Highway 60 between Neosho and Seneca, closed their doors for three days after an outbreak of the flu resulted in several absences.

Yates said the flu symptoms have been widespread in local schools.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza-like-illness is declining in some parts of the United States, while cases in other areas, including Missouri, are on the rise.

The CDC also reports that the number of cases seen nationally has remained elevated in recent weeks.

Yates said the symptoms of the flu can oftentimes sneak up suddenly on the infected person, who can expect to experience aching, fever and respiratory problems, such as trouble breathing and coughing.

"They kind of equate it to feeling like being hit by a truck," Yates said. "Most people that truly have the flu, they're sick five to seven days, flat on their back."

She said the best way to protect one's self against the nasty illness is by getting a flu shot. While shots are recommended in the late fall, Yates said it's not too late to get one now. She said the Newton County Health Department is still offering flu shots.

While she said this year's shot is said to be a good match to the influenza strain that is making its rounds, the shot may not protect everyone, though it can help to lessen the symptoms for those who do contract the bug.

"Maybe you don't have a great immune system so you might not have gotten a good immunity, and probably still could get the flu but it wouldn't be as bad," Yates said.

She also noted that the shot takes about two weeks to start working.

While it may seem late in the season to get vaccinated, Yates said the flu season is expected to stick around for at least another month.

"Normally it can go through February," Yates said. "It's not abnormal in the sense that, this is flu season, but it just peaked or started sooner, so it's a little worse season. You know, it's normal to have flu even into February."

She said besides the flu shot, thorough hand-washing, a good night's rest, and getting the right nutrition are also actions that can help to fight against contracting the illness.

However, no matter how careful, many will still experience the flu this season, and when they do, Yates said there a few options to keep in mind.

For those with health conditions, the elderly and young children, seeking medical attention is advised.

If caught early enough, Yates said prescription drugs, such as Tamiflu, can help to fight the flu symptoms.

Individuals in otherwise good health could also seek medical attention, though Yates said they would likely be OK to care for themselves at home. In that case, she recommends staying home and staying hydrated.

She also recommends staying home to prevent spreading the illness to others, though she noted that people can be contagious before they know they are infected.

"Truthfully, the flu kills a lot of people every year," Yates said. "It's just people don't pay attention to it. So for elderly people who don't have a good immune system that's why it's good for children and the general younger population to be vaccinated so that they don't get the flu to give it to an older person."