The year 2019 may have come and gone but brace yourselves: Flu season isn’t even close to being over. In fact, this season is on track to be another doozy—as bad as last year’s flu season, which was the deadliest in four decades, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So far, 23,000-59,000 have died from the flu in the U.S. this season, according to data from the CDC’s weekly report. In total, the CDC estimates there have been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses and 55,000 flu-related hospitalizations since October 1, 2019.
Children have been particularly vulnerable this flu season: The CDC reports 27 deaths in children so far, which is the most at this point in flu season since the CDC began tracking this data nearly two decades ago.
Of the 149 influenza-associated pediatric deaths occurring during the 2019-2020 season and reported to CDC:
• 96 deaths were associated with influenza B viruses, and 21 had a lineage determined; all were B/Victoria viruses.
• 53 deaths were associated with influenza A viruses, and 30 were subtyped; 29 were A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, and one was an A(H3) virus.
The number of flu cases and hospitalizations have been increasing at a steep rate since October—the official beginning of flu season.
"Hopefully this turns around and comes down, but if it continues on the trajectory it's on, it's not going to be good," Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN. "The only thing predictable about flu is that it's unpredictable."
And with several months still left in the flu season, that means the worst could still be ahead of us.
How to Protect Yourself From the Flu
The CDC recommends people six months and older get the vaccine yearly—ideally by the end of October. And while October is long gone now, getting vaccinated after that can still be helpful, according to the CDC. On average, peak flu activity strikes between December and February.
In addition to getting your flu shot, which is your best bet to protect yourself and your community, you can take these steps to help prevent flu, according to the CDC:
- Stay away from people who are sick. Seems like a no-brainer—but don’t kid yourself into thinking you won’t catch what they have!
- Wash your hands frequently to protect yourself from germs you may pick up from others. Good old soap and water is best, and follow the CDC’s recommended steps: wet, lather, scrub for at least 20 seconds, rinse, then dry.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth—that’s often how germs spread.
- Disinfect surfaces in your home, at work, or at school often, especially when others are sick.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, keeping stress under control, and eating well to keep your immune system strong and less prone to illness. And if you have a chronic disease that already makes you more susceptible to illness or life-threatening flu complications, it’s even more important during flu season to stay on top of your disease management and protect yourself.
Hopefully you’ll make it through this flu season as healthy as a horse. But if you do start noticing those telltale symptoms—fever, cough, and achiness that seem to come out of nowhere, to name a few—act fast—there’s an antiviral drug your doctor can prescribe within the first 48 hours you have symptoms that can help you recover more quickly.