Winter is long gone, but the flu? It’s still hanging around like a house guest who just. won’t. leave.
Thanks to a second viral wave of the flu, this season is going on 22 weeks — which is the longest one in the last 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The first wave hit in late November, which is typical. Things were looking pretty good: It was a less severe strain that tends to be better controlled by the vaccine, leading to fewer hospitalizations. But unfortunately, as mid-February rolled around, a second type started cropping up, and it was a nasty one. This strain has been sending more and more people to the hospital with complications.
While this season is dragging out, poised to break the record, it’s not as deadly as last year’s shorter 19-week flu season, which claimed an estimated 80,000 lives in the U.S. This year’s flu-related deaths are expected to be in the 35,000-55,000 range, according to the CDC. Better, but that’s still a lot of people. The good news? It should be over soon, the CDC’s flu tracker Lynette Branner told STAT News. Flu activity is finally decreasing throughout the country.
But if it’s almost over, should you bother getting a flu shot now? It depends on where you live and what your particular risk factors are. If you’re unvaccinated and live in Rhode Island, which is the only state still experiencing "high influenza-like illness activity," or Arizona, Missouri, Hawaii, Louisiana, or Kentucky, which are all seeing moderate activity, per the CDC’s latest report, it’s worth a call to your doctor to see if he or she has any shots left.
Spotting flu symptoms
If you do come down with something this spring, how can you tell if you have the flu or just a common cold? One of the first things to ask yourself is whether your symptoms came on suddenly or gradually: Flu usually hits you fast. Here’s what else to watch for, according to the CDC:
- Fever (most, but not all, people with the flu have this symptom)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
Some people may experience diarrhea and vomiting with the flu, but both are more common in kids.
If you have any of these symptoms, head to the doctor. If diagnosed early enough, the flu can be treated with an antiviral drug that can cut down on the time and severity of your sickness, getting you back on your feet sooner.