Published: Jan 04, 2011 4:30 AM EST
Updated: Jan 04, 2011 1:30 AM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Flu season has arrived in Southwest Florida; now health officials are urging people to get vaccinated before the season hits its peak.

"Came back today, just non-stop calls," said pediatrician Dr. Annette MacKoul, whose office treated a little bit of everything Monday.

"What you want to make sure is you don't have the flu, because with the flu, the earlier you treat it, the better," Dr. MacKoul said.

Health officials say more people are getting flu shots across the country than ever before, but not everyone.

"We're seeing more influenza this week than we saw a year ago when we were worried about swine flu," said Dr. Judith Hartner with the Lee Co. Health Department.

The Health Department says Lee County is seeing a moderate level of flu cases, and they've come earlier than usual.

"We usually think flu starts peaking in this part of Florida the end of January," Dr. Hartner said.  "It started in December."

Now illness is spreading as people return from their holiday vacations.

"Influenza is spread by droplets, coughing, sneezing, touching your hands," Dr. Hartner said. "When you've got a big family gathering, its so much easier to spread disease."

"People travel to see their relatives on the holidays whether they're well or not," said Dr. MacKoul.

Doctors say washing your hands often is critical to preventing the spread of influenza; but the flu shot is still the best line of defense, even for those who've already had the flu.

"We still recommend when they get better to get the flu shot, because it protects against two other strains that they might potentially get," Dr. MacKoul said. "It still is a threat, January, February are still the prime flu seasons."