Flu season began a month earlier than usual this year (lucky us), with 41 states seeing a widespread outbreak, sending many people to seek help at their local hospitals and flooding emergency rooms in the process.
In order for the virus to be considered an epidemic, the number of deaths attributed to the virus would need to reach 7.1% -- and this years current number stands at 7%, just below that scary threshold. There have been 18 reported children's deaths due to influenza since the beginning of the season.
In other years, about 2.2 percent of people experiencing flu-like symptoms have sought out-patient care. This year, that number has climbed to 5.6 percent. Although this is a high number, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic topped this year with 7.7 percent of people with the flu seeking doctor's care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still uncertain how bad this year's flu outbreak will be, but they are predicting it will be continue to be worse than past years. This year's predominant strand of influenza is H3N2 -- historically, flu seasons dominated by this strand have resulted in a higher percentage of hospitalizations and deaths.
So what can you do to minimize your risk?
If you haven't gotten sick yet, the CDC is still recommending the flu shot for anyone 6 months or older. About 91 percent of the strains tested this year have been the same as the 2012-2013 seasonal vaccine, so it's an effective way to ward it off.
The CDC also recommends using antiviral treatments, such as Tamiflu, as soon as possible after falling ill with confirmed or suspected influenza. Young children, older people, those with certain medical conditions, and pregnant women are especially encouraged to take these precautions.
We've got more resources on cold and flu season, including:
- 10 Simple Ways to Prevent Colds and the Flu
- The Flu: Fact or Fiction
- Printable Flu Fighter's Guide
- Feeding Kids Right During Cold and Flu Season
- Do We Have to Get Flu Shots Every Year?
- More Cold and Flu Resources
Stay healthy everyone!