ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Health officials are urging people to take the necessary steps to steer clear of viruses.

It is “National Influenza Vaccination Week,” but another holiday is approaching, which means more gatherings. Winnebago County health leaders said that this is the second week that numbers have trended upwards.

There were 531 cases of flu in the community the week of Thanksgiving. Cases were in the 300s the week before.

“Typically, we see our flu season climb in peak late December, into January, February, so this is early for us in a typical flu season,” said Todd Kisner, director of center of health protection for the Winnebago County Health Department.

Data from the health department showed that flu cases are a lot higher than anticipated. Kisner said that their weekly report breaks down the cases into different categories.

“The population being most impacted by flu right now is our kids from age 0-17 years,” he said.

Dr. Mirza Ali Khan, a family practice physician at the OSF HealthCare clinic in Belvidere, said that they have been experiencing the same spike at their site.

“I think they were comparing it like the last time they saw something like this was, if you recall, back in the early 2000s when they had the swine flu epidemic with the flu,” Khan said. “That’s kind of the numbers they were comparing it to as far as what’s going on right now. The main thing right now is that they’re wondering ‘what’s going on here? Why is this happening?’”

Both health experts have their ideas on why numbers are so high.

“The last couple of years with COVID, we all wore mask, so that has helped protect us with flu, because that’s respiratory too,” Kisner said. “So, with people not wearing masks as often in public places, it’s given the chance for influenza to spread just like COVID does, through the air.”

Kisner said that vaccination rates impact how many cases arise during peak season. He added that it is not too late for residents to roll up their sleeves if they have not done so already.

“It will take roughly two weeks for that vaccination to do its work in protecting, which is perfect timing now, just before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday,” he said.

Doctors said that residents should stay home if they are feeling sick, and to be sure to cover their coughs and sneezes. They should also always wash their hands.