We’re just partway through winter, which means we’re partway through the flu and cold season. But influenza’s toll depends on where you live.

“CDC estimates that there have been at least 20 million illnesses, 230,000 hospitalizations, and 14,000 deaths from flu so far this season,” the most recent surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The public health agency said 4.3% of visits to a health care provider were for respiratory illness, including influenza, which is more than normal. It’s “above baseline” in all 10 Health and Human Services regions. Flu spread is especially notable in the Southwest and South.

The CDC reported that 13 of the districts it monitors had moderate outpatient respiratory activity and 20 had “high” or “very high” activity. Another 22 jurisdictions report low or minimal flu activity. Further, nationwide, 12,186 patients were hospitalized with flu in the week ending Feb. 3.

The CDC is urging everyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated and reminds those who get sick that prescription flu antiviral drugs, which can reduce symptoms, should be started quickly and are especially important for people who are at high risk, including young children, those who are pregnant, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.

Flu spreads through respiratory droplets. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, or fatigue. Some experience vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms that are more common in children than in adults. People are most contagious in the first three to four days after symptoms begin.

Tough season for kids

As USA Today reported, the flu season has been hard on children. Last week, eight children died, bringing the season’s total to 65 deaths so far, according to the CDC. While the number is tragic, it’s also not out of the ordinary during an active flu season, pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Kris Bryant told USA Today. Bryant said the season has been more or less normal in that regard.

“So far, this seems like the typical flu season that we saw prior to the pandemic,” she said. “Recognize that a ‘typical flu season’ results in a lot of outpatient health care visits and hospitalizations and even some deaths in children.”

Experts outline expectations for how severe flu season will be

Bryant noted that “in the decade before the pandemic, the number of pediatric flu deaths ranged from 37 in the 2011-12 season to 199 in the 2019-20 season. The final total for last season was 183 deaths. That’s a scary number for both parents and pediatricians.”

Preventing spread

Health experts recommend:

  • Staying home when you’re sick and avoiding other people who are sick.
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with tissue or your elbow, not hands.
  • Washing hands often with soap and water or using hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing oft-touched surfaces, including cell phones and door knobs.
  • Not touching your nose, mouth or eyes with unwashed hands.
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