MISSOULA, Mont. -

The flu is certainly an unwelcome Christmas guest. But it's making its appearance anyway, about a month early.

There have been 31 cases of flu in Montana, and some are expecting this season to be worse than last years.

Flu strains A and B are most prevalent in Flathead and Lewis and Clark Counties.

Deer Lodge, Gallatin, Park, Yellowstone, Custer, Richland and Missoula Counties have also reported cases.

Health workers believe there are more cases out there.

These statistics don't include the rapid flu testing procedure conducted in a doctor's office, which provides results immediately.

The Missoula Health Department reports its surveillance of clinics, pharmacies and schools indicate there are probably more people out there with the flu who haven't been diagnosed.

The flu usually starts getting serious in Montana in January.

In Missoula, many people are equally serious about not getting it.

The Windward family came in for flu shots. That's Nina, Justin and their two youngest daughters, Brynn and Kenna.

"Elementary school is probably a petri dish for all the diseases that kids have and thought well might as well get our vaccinations," said Justin Winward.

If the flu is coming early more patients may be trying to prevent it.

The Missoula Health Department has dispensed 1,600 vaccinations so far this season.

That compares to 1,400 this time last year.

"We had to order some more because we started running a little bit low," said director of public health promotion, Cindy Hotchkiss, "but we have plenty on hand."

There are 22 cases of the strain A flu and 9 cases of strain B flu, the flu that is showing more severe symptoms, confirmed in Montana.

"So far in the state we've seen five hospitalizations for flu and that's definitely more than what we're usually seeing this time of year.

Everybody is encouraged to wash their hands and to stay home from school or work if they are sick.

The health department recommends people get flu shots.