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Everything You Need to Know to Prepare for the 2018-2019 Flu Season

The 2018-2019 flu season may be creeping closer, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. By learning why the flu season happens, what causes the flu and what the coming season will hold, you can arm yourself with the resources necessary to help keep you and your family healthy this flu season. 

Why Does the Flu Season Happen?

You may have noticed that you and your family tend to catch the flu during the wintertime, but have you ever wondered why that is, or if the flu really does have a “season?”  

Turns out, flu activity truly does peak during the fall and winter months, typically from December through March. 

Image: Peak Month of Flu Activity 1982-1983 through 2017-2018, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

But why does the flu season happen during the winter—or at all? Past theories have ranged from lower vitamin D levels to increased indoor time. 

An interesting 2007 study by Anice Lowen, Samira Mubareka, John Steel and Peter Palese from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, New York, revealed that the answer could lie in humidity and temperature. 

According to the study, cold temperatures and low humidity levels dramatically increase transmission of the flu virus. Since most regions of the United States experience chilly and dry weather during the wintertime, this could be one explanation why the flu seems to spread like wildfire during the colder months. 

The 2017-2018 Flu Season in Review

For many people, the 2017 flu season was the worst they’d seen in years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it resulted in record-breaking hospitalization rates and the highest number of reported pediatric deaths since the 2014-2015 flu season. 

As the New York Times reported, last year’s flu season saw a skyrocketing number of outpatient visits. 

Source: Chart by Audrey Carlsen, data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The severity of the 2017-2018 flu season was a result of the H3N2 virus, which was also responsible for the exceptionally harmful flu that spread during the 1997-1998 and 2003-2004 seasons. 

Knowing these trends are helpful, because flu vaccines are more effective against H1N1 viruses than they are against H3N2 viruses, even though both viruses belong to a type of flu known as Influenza A

Although experts tweak the formula of flu vaccines each year based on data gathered during the previous season, their predictions are not always correct, which is why vaccine efficacy varies from season to season. 

What’s in Store for the 2018-2019 Flu Season?

School is in session, business travelers are out flying and people are in close quarters indoors, which means it’s inevitable viruses will spread. While it’s impossible to perfectly predict what the upcoming 2018-2019 flu season will be like, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) committee has decided to include both Influenza A strains (H1N1 and H3N2) in this year’s vaccine, as well as two additional Influenza B strains. 

According to the CDC, “all persons aged 6 months and older are recommended for annual vaccination, with rare exception.” The CDC also recommends getting the flu vaccine by October. 

Additionally, there are some people who are particularly vulnerable to the flu and should make a special effort to get immunized, including: 

  • Pregnant women. 
  • Children from the ages of six months to four years. 
  • People aged 50 years and older. 

Even though the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, the CDC estimates that an increase in the number of vaccines administered could save millions of people from getting the flu. The CDC’s handy flu vaccine locator makes it easy to find out where you can get immunized. 

How Can You Prepare for the 2018-2019 Flu Season?

Besides getting immunized, there are several things you can do to help you and your family stay healthy during the upcoming flu season. The CDC recommends these basic steps:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you or your child gets sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you (or your child) stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. 
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. 
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu. 
  • If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.

Here are three additional tips to reduce your chances of getting sidelined by the flu this winter:  

  1. Use a humidifier. As we mentioned earlier, low humidity levels could be a key contributor to the spread of flu viruses. So, it’s not surprising that humidifiers may help prevent the spread of the flu
  2. Keep germs at bay. By avoiding the germs that cause the flu, you can greatly reduce your risk of catching it. Specifically, a combination of face mask usage and hand hygiene has been found to be effective , as can staying at least six feet away from infected persons
  3. Monitor flu activity. So you know when you should be on high alert, check out the CDC’s weekly United States flu map, which allows you to view the most recent flu activity by state: 

Image: Influenza Summary Update, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

And if you do begin to experience flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, fever, nausea, fatigue or a sore throat, seek professional care as quickly as possible. The longer you wait to see receive care, the less effective treatment will be

If you’re suffering from symptoms this flu season, stop by any of our GoHealth Urgent Care locations or save your spot online. Select your location below to find an urgent care center near you.

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