New numbers from the Public Health Agency show a big increase in lab-confirmed cases of the flu this year.

So far in 2012, there are more than 1,800 lab-confirmed cases, compared to just 97 during the same period last year.  The cases vary within provinces and territories.

The Public Health Agency said there have been 15 deaths associated with the flu so far this year, including one in Manitoba, compared with with five in the same period in 2011.

Experts aren’t sure why there’s been an increase.

The Public Health Agency of Canada would only say the flu is unpredictable.

They said that the only things that are predictable are the strains that circulate each year, which helps experts develop flu shots to offer protection from those strains.

Health experts also said many more people get the flu than what the numbers suggest, since not everyone is tested.

In Manitoba, health experts describe flu activity as “sporadic” and said the numbers here are “low.”

Confirmed cases, however, started climbing near the end of November.

Brandon physician Joanne Maier said she’s seen more people getting the flu this year.

“We usually do see a peak…towards the end of November and I would say it did start a bit earlier this year,” said Dr. Maier.

Manitoban Barb Wark said she’s glad she already received the flu shot.

"I feel a little more capable of handling it should I get the flu. The symptoms aren't as strong and it doesn't necessitate having to stay home quite as much, although you still need to be careful," she said.

Medical experts insist the flu shot is the best defence.

“Absolutely - it can protect you and you only have to have the flu once to realize how sick you can really feel. There are many people that end up being hospitalized with the flu so it can be quite a severe illness," said Dr. Maier.

Medical experts said everyone should get the flu shot, especially children, the elderly and people who have weak immune systems.