We don’t mean to be a downer, but this year’s flu season is shaping up to be a bad one.
Influenza began its rounds earlier than usual, and cases have been on the rise ever since. As of early December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there had been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from influenza across the U.S. And while it’s still too early to tell—and because the virus is famously unpredictable—the CDC believes we’re on track for the worst flu season in 13 years.
Oh, and did we mention that the flu is only part of the problem? It’s one-third of a “tripledemic” that includes surging cases of COVID and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
Why did flu season start so early this year?
Flu cases were historically low during 2020 and 2021, thanks to wide-spread masking, social distancing, travel restrictions and other precautions to protect against COVID-19. Those measures also helped prevent the spread of flu and other seasonal viruses. But as people returned to their pre-pandemic routines and activities, the flu also began to circulate.
A “normal” flu season in the U.S. typically runs October through May, with the highest incidence of illness happening between December and February. This year, cases were reported in September, and numbers started surging in October.
What are common flu symptoms?
If you are infected with the flu virus, symptoms usually appear within one to four days after exposure. Symptoms typically come on fast and may include:
- Body aches.
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Tiredness or feeling run down.
- Diarrhea or vomiting (usually only in kids).
Flu can last from a few days to two weeks. You can be contagious from a day before symptoms appear to up to a week after, and you’re most contagious three to four days after symptoms start.
Who is most at risk for flu complications?
Certain individuals are at higher risk for severe illness from the flu, including:
- Children younger than 5 (especially those younger than 2).
- Adults over 65.
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
- People with weakened immune systems due to medication or illness.
Certain health conditions can also put people at greater risk for flu-related complications, including:
- Asthma, CPOD or other chronic lung diseases.
- Heart or blood vessel disease.
- Neurological disorders.
- Kidney and liver disease.
How can I protect myself against flu?
An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against influenza. It not only helps stop the spread of infection, but it also prevents serious complications if you do get the flu. Vaccines are readily available at pharmacies and other locations. Visit Vaccines.gov to find a flu vaccine near you.
Here are some more ways to protect yourself and others this flu season:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick and keep your distance from others when you’re under the weather.
- Stay home when you’re sick. Flu is highly contagious and easily spread. If possible, stay home from work, school and other activities until you are fever-free for 24 hours without the help of fever-reducing medications.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
- Wash your hands. Frequent hand washing with soap and water (or alcohol-based sanitizer in a pinch) helps protect you from germs. Learn more about when and how to wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs can be spread when you touch something that is contaminated with germs and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Mask up indoors. With this year’s triple threat of flu, RSV and COVID, health experts are once again recommending that people wear face masks indoors to keep from getting sick and spreading infections to others. Learn more about how to choose the right mask.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
Healthy habits will also go a long way to keep you from getting sick this flu season and all year-round, including:
- Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need around 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Kids and teens need even more. Check out the CDC’s recommendations for how much shuteye you need.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity is a natural defense against viruses. Even a daily 30-minute walk will help boost your immunity.
- Manage your stress. It’s not an easy ask, especially this time of year, but too much stress can do a number on your immune system.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Proper hydration helps your body eliminate toxins and other bacteria that cause illness. While water needs vary, the National Academy of Medicine recommends a total of 13 cups a day for men and 9 cups for women.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Mom was right—you should eat your vegetables. A healthy diet packed with natural vitamins and antioxidants is key to fighting infection.
How is the flu treated?
Most flu symptoms can be treated at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (Advil, Motrin, Aleve) to lower fever and relieve head and body aches.
- Spray or oral decongestants to help with a runny or stuffy nose.
- Expectorants, such as guaifenesin (Mucinex), to help clear mucus out of your lungs.
- Cough suppressants.
Important: Certain nonprescription remedies may not be safe or suitable for everyone, especially young children. Check with a health care provider for guidance.
Under certain circumstances, flu symptoms may also be treated with antiviral medications. Your health care provider may prescribe antivirals if you:
- Have had symptoms for under 48 hours. Antiviral drugs are less likely to work if you start them after two days of symptoms.
- Have an underlying condition or are at risk for severe illness, even when you have symptoms for more than 48 hours.
- Have severe symptoms, even if you’ve been sick longer than 48 hours.
- Live with or care for people who are at risk for severe complications of the flu.
Indigo can ease your mind…and symptoms
If you think you might have the flu, Indigo Urgent Care makes it easy and convenient to get the care you need, when you need it. Simply walk in to one of our convenient neighborhood locations or schedule a face-to-face Indigo online care visit from the comfort of your couch or wherever you are when the flu has you down. We’re here every day from 8 am to 8 pm, including holidays and weekends.
It’s important to seek care for your flu symptoms if:
- Your symptoms don’t improve after 7 to 10 days.
- You have an underlying condition that puts you at higher risk for severe complications.
- Your fever lasts for more than 3 days.
- You’re pregnant.
One of our friendly providers will assess your symptoms and prescribe medication if needed. All of our locations offer rapid on-site lab testing for flu, so you’ll get quick results and the relief you need in no time.
If you or a loved one shows signs of severe illness, you should seek emergency treatment. Go to your nearest ER if you have:
- Fever over 103 degrees.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Chest or stomach pain that doesn’t go away.
- Low or no urine output.
- Persistent dizziness.
- Severe muscle pain or weakness.
- Bluish skin, lips or nails.
- Fever or cough that returns after getting better or going away.
- Other worsening health conditions.