Influenza activity has been elevated for weeks and will continue to rise.

By Rachel Wermager
Updated December 10, 2019

It’s the time of year when staying healthy is on everyone’s mind—it’s flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report influenza activity has been elevated since the beginning of November, which is earlier than usual. To date, about half of the country has high or moderate flu activity. With that in mind, we wanted to know more about what to expect from this year’s flu season, plus what steps individuals can take to take to boost immunity. Here's what Tasha Polster, R.Ph., vice president of pharmacy quality, compliance, and patient safety at Walgreens, had to say.

Woman sneezing into tissue
Credit: georgeclerk/Getty Images

Do you have any predictions for how bad the 2020 flu season will be?

Each flu season is unpredictable—we never know when it may peak or how severe it may be. The one thing we do know is that the flu shot remains the best protection against influenza, and the CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone six months of age and older.

When does flu season peak?

Flu viruses are most common during the winter months in the U.S., with flu activity often increasing in October or November, typically peaking in January or February, and potentially lasting through late spring. This year, the CDC reports this year's flu season peak will likely occur between December and February.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

Getting the vaccine before the flu hits can help you stay healthy and keep you from spreading the virus to others. You should get your annual flu shot as soon as it becomes available. It takes about two weeks to develop the antibodies to fight the flu after getting your flu shot, so it’s important to get it before the flu spreads in your community to best protect yourself and your loved ones. That said, it's better late than never. Even if you don't get the flu shot until January or later, you can still benefit from it.

Who is most at risk for the flu?

The CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get an annual flu shot by the end of October, including healthy people. It's especially important for pregnant women, people who are over 65 years old, and people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic heart or lung disease to be vaccinated because their immune systems are often weaker and therefore more vulnerable to illness.

How can people stay healthy, or lessen the risk of getting sick?

While getting a flu shot is your best form of prevention, frequent hand washing can lower your risk of contracting the flu and other viruses. Wash your hands often using soap and running water for 15 to 30 seconds. Also, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, especially when you're around people who are sick.

Any tips for staying flu-free when someone in your home is infected?

If someone you live with is infected there are other steps you can take to protect yourself. Get a flu shot, of course, and also be sure to wash your hands frequently and sanitize shared household items like phones, remote controls, doorknobs, and faucets.

What's the difference between the flu and a common cold?

The flu often comes on suddenly and more severely than a cold. The most common flu symptoms are fever, cough, and sore throat, but could also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose, and fatigue. Comparatively, colds are typically marked by sneezing, nasal congestion, and a runny nose.

Can I catch the flu by getting the flu shot?

No, a flu shot cannot give you the flu. It's manufactured using what’s known as a “dead” or inactive virus, so it cannot cause anyone to get influenza as a result of receiving the vaccine.

To stay updated on how many cases of the flu are happening in your area and around the country, check out the CDC's Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report. And in the meantime, get your annual vaccine and wash your hands to keep yourself—and your loved ones—as healthy as possible.


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