With spring just a few weeks away, you’d think flu activity would begin dwindling. But from the looks of it, flu season will continue well into April and even May this year.
Flu activity remains elevated, and widespread activity was reported in 48 states and Puerto Rico last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly flu report.
Since October 1, there have been nearly 26.3 million cases of the flu, as many as 12.4 million flu-related medical visits, and up to 31,200 deaths caused by the flu.
Nine children died from the flu last week, bringing the total of pediatric deaths this season to 64.
Now, there’s a second wave of the flu — featuring a new, stronger strain — circulating in the southeast.
“Since there are multiple strains of flu virus going around, it is certainly possible to get the flu more than once,” Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
While you can’t catch the same strain twice — as your body will develop antibodies to the virus — you can get another strain if you’re not immunized.
“The best way to reduce your chance of getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine — and this year’s flu vaccine has definitely been effective in reducing flu cases and case severity,” Cutler added.
Earlier this year,the H1N1 virus strain appeared to be the dominant strain.
The H3N2 strain, which tends to be more severe, is picking up in southeastern states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
H3N2 strains accounted for nearly two-thirds of Influenza A viruses last week, the CDC reported.
And of all the viruses circulating this year, H3N2 is most likely to send you to the hospital or cause pneumonia, according to health experts.
In general, flu symptoms present similarly each year — fever, body aches, cough, headache, and fatigue — but the severity and extent tend to differ from person to person.
“The symptoms and trajectory will differ on an individual basis depending on that person’s immune system, risks, and overall health,” said Dr. Armand Dorian, the chief medical officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at Keck School of Medicine at USC.
The best way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine.
This year’s vaccine has proven to be extremely effective as it matches the common strains circulating this year.
A few weeks ago, the CDC estimated that the vaccine “reduced the risk of medically attended influenza-related illness by almost half (47 percent) in vaccinated people this year.”
The CDC is still encouraging people to get the flu shot if they haven’t done so already. This is especially important for the elderly who are at a higher risk of getting influenza.
“The people at greatest risk of the flu are the elderly (over age 65), the very young (under age 5), and those with compromised immune systems. While the flu vaccine will be good for everyone, it is especially important for these people,” said Cutler.
It can take up to two weeks after getting the shot for your body to build up immunity to the flu. It’s wise to get the shot as soon as possible before the season begins to wind down.
Health experts are unsure whether the season has peaked or if there will be yet another wave.
“It is very common for there to be undulations, or waves, within one flu season. While we always expect a peak, historically, we have seen multiple peaks in one season,” Dorian explained.
Regardless, flu activity is likely to continue for several weeks.
In addition to getting the shot, doctors recommend keeping your immune system healthy by getting plenty of sleep and eating a well-balanced diet.
Washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer is also a must. If you use public touch screens, consider wiping them down with an antibacterial wipe before use.
The flu virus is highly contagious and easily spreads from person to person via coughing, sneezing, and even talking.