The flu continues to spread in Alabama and across the country.

State health officials issued an advisory Wednesday addressing the flu cases and revealing what Alabamians can do to protect themselves.

Dr. DeeDee Kidd and the staff at the American Family Care clinic at EastChase in Montgomery have been very busy.

“There's a large amount of flu,” Dr. Kidd said. “Probably about two weeks ago, we started seeing. Last week and this week, we're seeing a lot of patients that are positive for the flu, both A and B.”

Alabama is one of 23 states experiencing high influenza-like illness activity, and one of 43 reporting widespread activity, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

“It's really important to get in quickly because if you do feel like you've got the flu, we can get it diagnosed and get you on medicine within 48 hours. We can keep you from getting quite as sick. If it's past 48 hours, then the treatment doesn't work," explained Dr. Kidd. "If you have a family member or coworker with the flu, then you can get put on medication to prevent the flu."

ADPH stressed that the influenza vaccine is the most important preventive measure against the flu and that flu shots are still recommended at this stage in flu season.

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness.

While people in certain age groups may develop different levels of immunity, the vaccine reduces the chances of getting flu by about 50 to 60 percent or more when the vaccine viruses are like the ones circulating in the community, according to Dr. Karen Landers, a health officer for the state health department.

This year, laboratory tests done by the ADPH show that most of the circulating virus in Alabama is influenza A (H3), which is similar to the virus protection found in this year’s flu vaccine.

“It is not too late to vaccinate for flu and reduce the risk of illness,” Dr. Landers stated. “In addition, it is important that people wash hands, cover coughs, and stay home when they have influenza-like illnesses.”

“We don't know exactly how long the flu season will last. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect. More than likely, you still have time for it to work,’ Dr. Kidd added.

Certain people with influenza are at higher risk of complications from the disease. It is important that those who have underlying health conditions or may be caregivers of high-risk individuals check with their physicians or healthcare providers about antiviral medications that might help them recover more quickly from the flu, ADPH stressed.

Dr. Kidd and other local doctors are also seeing cases of walking pneumonia, strep throat, mononucleosis and a nasty virus that mimics the flu, but it's symptoms are worse.

“Cover your mouth. Sneeze and cough into your elbow and wash your hands,” urged Dr. Kidd.