Whether you never miss a flu vaccine or haven’t had one in years, the seasonal virus is probably all over your news feed—and on your mind—right now. In the past few weeks, a particularly nasty flu has become widespread across the U.S., affecting every corner of the country, save for Hawaii.
The quick uptick in the virus’ spread has alarmed everyone—including the CDC, who released a statement about it on Friday. Take a deep breath (unless you’re surrounded by sick people); here’s what you need to know about the current influenza insanity.
1. The flu is more widespread this year than it has been in the past 13 years. There have been only two flu seasons categorized as ‘high-severity’ (based on higher-than average flu cases, doctor and hospitalization stats, and mortalities) in those 13 years, but this year is shaping up to be a potential third.
2. Flu season is likely peaking right now. But experts expect the flu frenzy will last a few more weeks before slowing, and may stick around in some capacity for up to three more months.
3. The vast majority of flu cases this year (almost 80 percent) are a type of Influenza A called “H3N2.”According to the CDC, the H3N2 virus is associated with a worse flu season, more hospitalizations, and more flu-related deaths.
4. The flu shot hasn’t been remarkably effective (but is still worth getting). So far, this year’s vaccine has only been about 30 percent effective in warding off the H3N2 strain. But the vaccine does offer some protection against all four types of flu out there, including H1N1 and influenza B, which don’t usually become a problem until later in the flu season. Plus, even if you still end up with the flu, research suggests you’ll have milder symptoms—and even spend less time under the weather—if you’ve been vaccinated. So if you haven’t gotten your vaccine yet, get after it; just keep in mind that it takes about two weeks to become effective.
Taking your mother’s age-old advice about washing your hands, keeping your distance from those who are under the weather, and taking sick days when you need them can all help you ward off the flu this season. If you’ve already come down with symptoms, many experts recommend getting a prescription antiviral drug (like Tamiflu®) from your doctor to combat symptoms and keep the flu from becoming more serious.
Homeopathic medicines like oscillococcinum (a.k.a. ‘oscillo’) can also offer relief from the flu. In fact, research has found oscillo effective in reducing flu symptoms (like cough, sore throat, and achiness) and shortening the total amount of time spent feeling ill.
There are also a number of other nutrients and supplements that can help support your immune system through these sniffly, sneezy months, such as probiotics (which support gut and immune function), vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant), vitamin D (which is involved in our immune function), and echinacea (an herb that may boost white blood cells).