Three children have died from the flu in Tennessee during the 2017-2018 flu season, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Two of the deaths were in East Tennessee, and one was in Middle Tennessee.
The Department of Health is urging everyone over six months of age to get a flu shot, as flu activity is "widespread" in the state, said spokesperson Bill Christian.
"The flu vaccine is especially important for infants, young children, pregnant women, adults over age 50 and for those with chronic medical conditions," Christian said. "The flu shot remains the best protection we have against influenza."
Christian said Tennessee usually sees two to three pediatric flu-related deaths each flu season. He said the state has seen as many as 15 deaths in 2009.
Dr. Mark Rasnake is an infectious disease doctor and hospital epidemiologist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
He said the hospital is seeing an influx of flu patients, and believes the issue is a mis-matched flu viruses. Each year, when researchers create the vaccine, they try to target the likely strains of the flu, and a mis-match can lead to low effectiveness.
"It seems to be at best a 30 percent coverage rate for the current flu strain, and that maybe as bad as 10 percent," he said.
A normal year, he said, sits around 50-60 percent.
Still, he believes people should get the shot, and also take the disease seriously. It can kill thousands nationwide in a bad year.
"We just sort of don't really give it the degree of concern we probably should," Rasnake said.
Don Samples understands that now. A few years ago, he lost his wife Leeann to the flu.
"She had a smile that would light up a room," he said.
Complications from the flu filled her lungs with fluid. Doctors had to put her in a medically induced coma for nearly a month. She was released from the hospital, but later collapsed at home.
"I was trying everything I can. There was no pulse, there was nothing," Don said. "I started doing CPR. I called 911 while doing CPR. Both my daughters were in the house and saw what was going on."
Now, he advocates everyone get the flu shot with the #WeCanForLeeann campaign.
"I tell them to take it very seriously," he said. "I tell people all the time. If you're sick, running a fever, if you think you have the flu -- stay home."
The Department of Health says it's important to help prevent the spread of flu and other viruses by practicing good health habits:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Stay home if you are sick