New data from the Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 6.4 million people have caught the flu so far this season, causing 55,000 to 93,000 people to be hospitalized, and more than 2,900 people have died.
The CDC said Monday that Washington, D.C., New York City, Puerto Rico, and 34 U.S. states are all experiencing high flu activity. Diagnoses across the U.S. have been elevated for the past eight weeks and this year's season is on track to be one of the deadliest in a decade, at least as severe as in 2017-'18.
Influenza is unpredictable, explains the CDC, and the timing, severity and length of flu season varies from year to year. However, trends indicate that activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time, flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.
The contagious respiratory illness spreads through the air when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. Others near them might inhale the droplets directly, or pick up the germs from an object (such as a telephone or computer keyboard) and then transfer them to their eyes, nose or mouth, according to the Mayo Clinic. Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
Signs and symptoms usually come on suddenly, the CDC says. People who are sick often feel some or all of the following:
- Fever and/or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting (more common in children)
- Diarrhea (more common in children)
The CDC urges everyone 6 months of age and older to get a flu vaccine to prevent them from contracting the infection. Influenza viruses change from year to year, so vaccines must be updated annually to include the viruses that will most likely circulate in the upcoming season.