CHARLOTTE, N.C. – We're in the peak of flu season and local health professionals are warning people to be on alert. Seven people in North Carolina have died from flu-associated causes this season, with three coming just in the last couple of weeks.

"Around Christmas and New Years Holiday seems to be when it really starts spiking here in the Charlotte area," said Dr. Ryan Shelton.

Dr. Shelton at Carolinas Healthcare System says the symptoms are impossible to miss.

"You can function and work through a cold, versus the flu which is like a MACK truck all of a sudden," Shelton said. "Severe headaches, fever, coughing, runny nose."

So if any of this happens to you or your kids, go to a doctor right away. If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, he says it's never too late to add an extra layer of protection, even though it's not a full-proof guarantee.

"We have seen folks who still got an influenza-like illness and got really sick even though they had the vaccine," Shelton said. "So again that's not a reason not to do it, but it does happen."

The next few weeks the flu numbers are likely to continue to climb, so Shelton says to wash your hands, cough into your sleeve and try to contain your germs.

"It's not just about you, but it's about all of those people you're going to come in contact with this season," Shelton said. "Whether it's family members, coworkers, people at the grocery store. It's hard to say 'I'll be fine', because it's beyond just you."

According to a release from the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of reported flu-related deaths in the state is now seven as the peak 2016-17 season nears.

“Flu will still be circulating for at least the next several weeks,” said Dr. Zack Moore. “Getting vaccinated now helps protect you and those you come in contact with.”

Officials say that the flu is now widespread throughout most of the state and they strongly encourage all residents to get vaccinated. According to the DHHS, the number of flu-associated deaths reported has varied from 9 in 2011-12 to as many as 218 in 2014-15.

Moore urges everyone to use precautions to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses, including:

  • Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water or an approved hand sanitizer
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
  • If you are sick with flu, stay home until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours