About 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter, making it one of the deadliest flu seasons in more than 40 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The startling number of fatalities included the deaths of 180 children, 144 of whom did not get a flu shot. That's the worst flu fatality rate for children since 171 died during the particularly severe 2012-13 flu season, according to the CDC.
In addition, the CDC reports, flu costs the nation about $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity among working-age adults.
Once again, flu season is upon us. The CDC says cases generally start showing up in October and November, but the "flu season" can last as long as May.
“Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and others from contracting and spreading the flu,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “The earlier you get a flu shot, the better as it can take up to a month to develop full flu immunity.”
The flu shot is recommended for those ages six months and older, and especially for those at risk of flu complications, children and the elderly.
So what will the flu season be like this year?
The short answer, according to the CDC: “It is not possible to predict what this flu season will be like. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity and length of the season varies from one season to another.”
But there are things you can do, besides getting a shot, that can help prevent the spread of the flu. Here's OLOL's best advice:
- Stay home when you are sick. Especially if you are contagious or have fever greater than 100.4 degrees. Call your doctor immediately to see if an antiviral medication is appropriate for you.
- Stay away from others until you have not had a fever for 24 hours, especially those who are very young or old, or who have poor immune systems.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Get plenty of rest, drink a lot of water and eat nutritious food.
OLOL experts also debunked some of the myths out there about the flu vaccination:
- The flu shot can give you the flu. False. Because flu viruses used in flu shots are inactive, they do not cause infection.
- It doesn't work. False. While a flu shot does not offer 100 percent protection, getting the shot makes you about 60 percent less likely to get the flu. And, if you do get the flu, it can lessen the symptoms.
- You can skip years between flu shots. Nope. A flu shot is needed every season because the particular strains of flu that are dominant change each year. Researchers develop a brand-new flu vaccine every year.
- Wait to get the flu shot until later in the season. Nope. Get a flu shot as soon as they are available because it takes a few weeks to become effective.
Symptoms come on quickly
Fever higher than 100 degrees
Headache, often sudden and severe
Mild to severe tiredness
Runny nose possible
Sore throat possible
Dry, unproductive cough