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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -
Doctors in North Alabama say this seems to be the most severe flu season they have seen in recent years.
Many people across the valley are feeling under the weather, but how do you tell if you're coming down with the flu, or the common cold?
An area doctor says make no mistake, there is a big difference between the two.
That's because flu symptoms are much more severe.
Some common symptoms to look out for are muscle aches, a painful cough, high fever, and headache.
Influenza Type-A is what seems to be going around right now, but regardless of what strain you catch, doctors say the symptoms are pretty similar. What differs is their intensity.
The virus spreads very easily and is therefore, very contagious.
Experts say adults can infect others at least one day before symptoms develop, and five to seven days after becoming sick.
"The reason influenza is such a contagious disease is by the time you get sick, you have already been contagious. By the time you stay home from work, you have already exposed other people to it," said Dr. Marshall Plotka with Phoenix Emergency Care in Huntsville.
Doctors advise people with the flu not to return to work or school, until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours.
A big question many wonder is at what point do you go to the doctor?
Infants and the elderly are more likely to become seriously ill or die from the flu, but the virus can be risky for anyone, especially if you develop a complication like pneumonia.
Doctors can provide treatment that will reduce the severity of your symptoms, and make you less contagious.
Antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza will do the trick, but you need to get to a doctor as soon as you start showing signs of the virus for them to work.
"The medicine we use for the flu has to be given within two days of when you start feeling symptoms, or it will not have the desired effect," said Dr. Plotka.
Although flu season is in full force in the valley, it is not too late to protect yourself from the virus.
There are about 20-million doses of influenza vaccine left across the country and there is plenty of it to go around in North Alabama.
The vaccine is available at most area doctor's offices, walk-in clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies.
However, the Madison County Health Department says they are running low.
The good news is the vaccine appears to be a great match for the especially severe strain of the bug going around this year.
But with the virus already in full swing, doctors are urging people to get a flu shot as soon as possible.
"They need to hurry because it takes two to three weeks to kick in and the epidemic ordinarily lasts 4 to 6 weeks," said Dr. Plotka.
To debunk a couple of myths, doctors say you do need to get a new seasonal flu vaccine every year and unlike popular belief, the vaccine cannot give you the flu.