When Is Flu Season? Right Now—and It's Far from Over
Think the holidays are the worst of it? Think again.
With a large chunk of the nation coming off an unseasonably warm weekend (70°F in the Northeast in February? Is this Heaven?) it might seem like you can breathe a sigh of relief at the end of cold and flu season. No more clutching hand sanitizer, holding your breath when someone coughs on the train, or straight-up sprinting away from infected coworkers at the water cooler. (Here's how to sneeze without being a jerk.)
But before you get too comfortable, there's something you should know: Flu season definitely isn't over, and there's a chance it could get even worse.
Amino, a consumer digital health care company, tracked flu diagnoses for the last few years and found that, as of January 26, 2017, the flu still had yet to reach its peak. In past years, diagnoses have reached peaks of 40,000 and even 80,000 people (in their database of about 188 million Americans). This year, cases haven't even reached 20K yet, meaning the worst may be yet to come.
Meanwhile, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the number of positive flu tests reported by clinical laboratories in the U.S. has continued to rise into mid-February. While every flu season plays out differently and major flu activity varies by location (check your state on the map below), the flu usually takes about three weeks to peak and another three to diminish, according to Maria Mantione, associate clinical professor at St. John's University College of Pharmacy and Health Services, and Chloraseptic's health expert. That means, yes, even if reported flu diagnoses peak in the very near future, you still have about a month more of mandatory flu paranoia ahead of you.
There's good or bad news depending on where you live; 28 states have reported widespread flu activity, where diagnoses are much higher than average, according to the CDC. The safest places to escape for a winter getaway? Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, which have all experienced minimal flu activity so far this year.
If you diligently got your flu shot, you have a better chance at staying healthy. Based on early estimates, the flu shot reduces your risk of getting sick by almost 50 percent, according to the CDC, and the majority of the tested viruses for this season remain similar to the recommended components of this year's Northern Hemisphere flu vaccines. (That's why, yes, you should always get your flu shot.)
But if you're one of about 45 percent of Americans and 60 percent of 20-somethings who didn't get your flu shot, be on the lookout for the sudden onset of symptoms like a high fever, body aches, and cough, says Dr. Mantione. (Here's how to tell if it's the flu, a cold, or allergies.) If you start noticing that general hit-by-a-bus feeling, it's huge that you get to a doc ASAP. Treatment works best if started within 24 hours of symptoms surfacing, says Dr. Mantione.
In the meantime, stay healthy with immune system–boosting foods, plenty of sleep (that's your number-one weapon against the flu, BTW), and, if you come down with a cold, use these day-by-day tips to get rid of it lightning fast.