By deaths, hospitalizations and sheer numbers, this flu season ranks as the second most serious in the past 13 years – and it could still overtake 2014-2015. Average cumulative hospitalizations hit 31.5 per 100,000 people, and pediatric flu-related deaths since Oct. 1, 2017, reached 30, as of the most recently reported statics (for the week ending Jan. 13). During the first two weeks of January 2018, the entire continental U.S. experienced “widespread” flu activity – and more recent numbers have yet to be calculated.

In a Jan. 12 call, Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said, “Flu seasons every year are bad, so there’s never a mild flu season. This season is on that more severe side.”

Moreover, this flu season still has 11-12 weeks to go. Here’s what you need to do.

Get Vaccinated

Even this late into the epidemic, you should get vaccinated if you haven’t been vaccinated yet this season, says Dr. Jernigan. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older because it can reduce the likelihood of getting sick, as well as decrease the risk of hospitalization. Additionally, the vaccine also reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza, according to a 2017 study in Pediatrics.

Know When to See a Doctor

You might have the flu if you experience a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, according to the CDC. Most people with the flu recover in a few days to two weeks and do not need medical care.

That said, anyone in a high-risk group - which includes children under 5, adults 65 or older, pregnant women, Native Americans and people with any chronic medical condition - experiencing flu symptoms should get in to see a healthcare professional right away. When treating high-risk groups, the CDC advises doctors to provide antiviral drugs as soon as possible, as these work best when given within 48 hours of flu symptoms. These medicines can cut the length and severity of illness, reducing the likelihood of catching another infection like pneumonia. If you or a loved one is in a high-risk group, ask your healthcare provider about antiviral medications.

Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, if you feel very sick, schedule an appointment with your family doctor, and if it’s not possible to get in within 48 hours, go to an urgent care center.

Know When to Go to the ER

Go to the ER if you or a loved one shows any of these emergency symptoms, advises the CDC.

For infants:

  • Unable to eat
  • Trouble breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

For children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up/not interacting
  • Not wanting to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

For adults:

  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

If Sick
If you get sick but don’t show severe symptoms, the CDC advises that you stay home for at least 24 hours after fever dissipates naturally (i.e. not because of anti-fever medicine). During this time, to reduce the likelihood of getting others sick, stay away from others as much as possible, wear a facemask if you go outside for medical care, cover your face when you sneeze or cough, and wash your hands often.

Also, drink plenty of fluids, allow the body to rest, gargle with salt water to ease a sore throat, and use a humidifier to reduce congestion and a warm compress on the head to alleviate a headache, advises WebMD.

Prevention Matters
Someone with the flu (even if not showing symptoms) can spread it to people up to 6 feet away, according to the CDC, likely through droplets made during coughing, sneezing or talking. Another route of transmission: touching a virus-laden surface or object and then touching your own mouth or nose.

Reduce your risk of catching the flu by staying away from sick people. Avoid touching your face, which introduces germs into your body. Wash your hands often, particularly after going to public places and before eating and cooking. Other tips from the CDC: Disinfect surfaces at home, work or school, especially if someone with the flu may have touched those surfaces. Boost your immune system by getting enough sleep, enough exercise, managing your stress, drinking enough water and eating nutritious food.

In summary, with almost three months left of flu season, “get your vaccine,” urges Dr. Jernigan. “If you are sick - and certainly, if you have underlying conditions - be sure to talk with your doctor about anti-viral drugs.” And if you or a loved one experiences any of the emergency symptoms, go to the ER.