Last flu season, more than 80,000 Americans died of the influenza virus, the highest number in over a decade.1 About 900,000 people were hospitalized from the “high severity” flu outbreak over the 2017-2018 season.1 Some states were hit earlier—and harder—than others by the very contagious flu.
There’s no way to know just how bad this flu season will be where you live, but here’s a look at last season’s outbreak areas and strategies so you can stay healthy as you face this season’s virus.
A look back
Last season, the flu virus first appeared locally across the U.S. in early October. The table shows which states were hit by the flu first, and the worsening of its spread by the holiday season.2
Flu Outbreak 2017-2018 Season: States Hit First*
|October 7||October 21||November 18||December 16|
|Colorado||Oklahoma||Washington||All U.S. states|
As of early December this year, 27 U.S. states are experiencing local and regional flu outbreaks.2
Last season’s flu was aggressive and, unfortunately, not targeted very well by the flu vaccine. As epidemics form and more people become sick, there are obviously more people to pass the virus on. As last year showed, this can lead to a steady spread across the entire U.S. over the winter months.3
This spread had real-life implications for millions of people. Maybe you were one of them. With headache, fatigue, coughing, congestion, and weakness, flu patients are usually unable to go to work or school. For an “average strength” flu season, this translates to about $10.4 billion a year in medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings.4
Can your region avoid a serious outbreak—and its fallout—this flu season?
A look ahead
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for the flu. Since it is a viral infection, not a bacterial infection, antibiotics can’t conquer the illness. The single best way to protect your health this season—no matter where you live—is to get your flu shot. And December isn’t too late to get one!
Getting the influenza vaccine is the most important preventive measure and is recommended for all people over six months of age in the U.S., according to Teladoc Health expert Marc S. Itskowitz, MD, physician in internal medicine for Allegheny Health Network. He also explains that you can’t get “a touch of the flu” by getting the shot: it’s an inactivated vaccine that cannot cause the illness. In fact, the vaccine averts millions of cases of the flu every year.5
Aside from getting your flu shot at a doctor’s office or local pharmacy, practicing good hand hygiene is key to staying healthy. The very contagious virus is passed through airborne droplets that land on commonly touched objects like door handles, computer keyboards, and shopping carts. If you touch a contaminated surface or person, the germs on your hand could contaminate you as well. Wash your hands frequently and carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating or touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. Always dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if there isn’t a sink nearby.
Since this virus is so contagious, it’s best not to share food or drinks during flu season. Also take extra care to clean frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant wipes or antiseptic cleaners.
To boost your immune system, which protects your body from infection, skip the processed foods and eat a fiber-, vegetable-, and protein-rich diet. Pick colorful fruits and vegetables and hydrate each day with plenty of water. Exercising regularly is important for good health and circulation, which helps strengthen the immune system. Research shows that people who exercise 30 to 45 minutes daily experience a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the number of days they get sick.6 Physical activity also helps achieve lower stress levels, which provides further protection against illness and infection.
With the right diet, daily exercise, and reduced stress, getting a good night’s sleep should be much easier. If you’re not getting enough quality ZZZs, you’re more likely to get sick, and also more likely to take longer to recover if you do get the flu.
If the flu virus is already spreading through your state, make sure you’ve gotten your influenza vaccine, and that you’re focusing on healthy choices to maintain wellness. If you do come down with the flu or another virus, U.S. board-certified Teladoc doctors can treat or prescribe medication to treat your condition if necessary, or offer tips to ease your symptoms. Reach out to us anywhere, anytime of the day or night online, by app, or by phone (800-TELADOC or 800-835-2362).