BOISE -- The flu season is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade. Three people have already died in Idaho from flu-related complications, which is why the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is urging the public to get vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu cases have jumped in five southern states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. An uptick like that usually doesn't occur until after Christmas.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says there is an earlier uptick in Idaho, too.

We are thinking this flu season is going to be a little more severe than others we've had, said Niki Forbing-Orr, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Forbing-Orr says three women have died from influenza-related causes; one from southeast Idaho and two from southwest Idaho. All three were over the age of 50 and are the first reported flu-related deaths in Idaho this year.

Forbing-Orr says unfortunately only about a third of adults received the flu vaccine last year.

And only about 40% of Idaho's children were vaccinated against the flu, said Niki Forbing-Orr.

While the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare doesn't know why that is, they do know this year's flu season is predicted to be a bad one.

We are seeing an earlier uptick in the number of cases than we normally do. And this year, we're seeing the peak come on a little earlier, said Forbing-Orr.

The number of flu-related deaths in Idaho has gone up and down over the last seven years. In the 2010 - 2011 flu season, 21 people died. Twenty-two people died in the 2009 - 2010 flu season.

The bottom line is the best protection against the flu is to get the flu vaccine, said Forbing-Orr.

The CDC says there is plenty of vaccine this year. It is recommended for everyone six months and older unless they have a severe allergy to chicken eggs or have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.

Those at higher risk include: infants, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people 65 and older.

Forbing-Orr says it is also important to get the flu vaccine if you have close contact with anyone in the high-risk group because you can bring the germs home and infect them that way.

There are a number of places where you can get a flu vaccine like local pharmacies and family physicians. Call your local health department because they might offer them for children.

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