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Why is this year's flu season so bad?

This year’s flu season is wreaking havoc on millions of Americans across the country. Extreme cold spells and holiday travel have created the perfect conditions for the infection to spread to nearly every corner of the United States.

“Unfortunately, this year the circulating strain of flu is H3N2, which appears to be more virulent than other strains of flu,” says Jesse Couk, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Piedmont. “Furthermore, our flu vaccine this year is less effective against this strain of virus compared to the other strains.”

Those at highest risk for developing flu-related complications include:

  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Children under the age of 2
  • People who have a history of respiratory disease like asthma
  • People with medical co-morbidities like heart disease
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant women

“Because of the variance in flu strains this season, people’s immune systems are struggling harder to fight off the symptoms than they typically would,” says Vikash Modi, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “If you fall into one of the high-risk populations, you should take the flu symptoms very seriously.”

Should you still get a flu shot?

Yes, says Dr. Modi.

“Flu season typically winds down in January,” he explains. “However, given the delayed onset of this season, we can anticipate flu cases to last through April or May. Getting the flu shot now can help limit your risk of developing the flu through the spring time.”

How can you prevent the flu? 

You can’t completely prevent the flu, but you can take the following precautions:

  • Get your flu shot.
  • Stay away from sick people. If you are directly in contact or live with someone who has been diagnosed with the flu, ask your physician about receiving a preventative dose of the antiviral medication to take once a day until the exposure period is over.
  • Wash your hands, especially before meals and before touching your face or eyes.

What should you do if you get the flu?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.

“If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to get medical care,” says Dr. Modi. “However, if you have symptoms of flu and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider.”

Note: If you are only mildly ill, do not visit the emergency department. Instead, see your primary care doctor or visit urgent care or Piedmont QuickCare at Walgreens. However, if you have these emergency warning signs, go to your nearest emergency department.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot! Flu shots are available at Piedmont’s urgent care locations, primary care offices and at many pharmacies.


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