Peak flu season is hitting the U.S.
Early estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that since Oct. 1, 2019, when the federal agency began counting, as many as 8.5 million flu-related medical visits and up to 210,000 hospitalizations have been tallied.
Incidence of flu typically peaks between December and February, according to the CDC. This season, flu activity began accelerating early in October, bringing with it a type of virus –influenza B—that hits children hardest. So far this year, the CDC reports that 39 children in the U.S. have died from the flu.
"Nationally, we're seeing a lot of influenza B virus, which is unusual for this time of year," said Jonathan Grein, MD, medical director of Cedars-Sinai Hospital Epidemiology. "We often see that more toward the tail of the season."
Flu patients who are very young or very old can develop complications, as can pregnant women or those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer.
"For more vulnerable populations, it’s really important to talk to your doctor early so that if treatment is needed it can be given early," Grein explained.
The flu season itself typically contains multiple viruses so getting a vaccine now still matters. It still protects you against additional strains of the flu that you may become exposed to in upcoming weeks.
A health provider at your local urgent care could prescribe Tamiflu or another antiviral medication, said Sam Torbati, MD, medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai.
"The earlier that Tamiflu gets started, the better effect it has in terms of lessening the severity of flu," Torbati said.
But treatment for most flu patients is simple: resting at home and drinking lots of fluids. Most people don't need to see a doctor, let alone visit the hospital, which is really meant for patients who are older, sicker or have serious complications from influenza that require emergency services. Serious complications include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, weakness or dehydration.
To avoid a nasty bout of flu, getting the flu shot is still the best defense, Torbati added. And it's not too late.
"The flu season itself typically contains multiple viruses so getting a vaccine now still matters," he said. "It still protects you against additional strains of the flu that you may become exposed to in upcoming weeks."
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai blog: Flu—When to Go to the ER