November 20, 2022
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that several influenza virus strains can cause. Symptoms of the flu usually appear abruptly and include headache, cough, fever, chills, and body aches. Influenza can cause severe complications – especially in children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems – making it a serious public health concern.
Due to a variation in factors like weather, vaccination rates, and mutation of the virus, the flu season is different every year. Here is a summary of the U.S. flu season as of mid-November 2022.
Which flu viruses are circulating in 2022?
While you can get the flu any time of year, it is usually most prolific from October to March or April. Typically, Influenza A viruses are most common through the early part of the flu season (influenza B becomes active near the end of the season). So far, most people this season have caught influenza A(H3N2) viruses. The subtype influenza A(H1N1) is seeing a slight increase as well.
How fast is the flu spreading?
The flu season has started earlier and faster than average this year. At this point in the flu season, we’ve seen the highest number of flu hospitalizations and positive flu tests since 2010-2011. The CDC says that this season, the US has seen at least 4.4 million illnesses, 38,000 hospitalizations, and 2,100 deaths (including 7 pediatric deaths) as a result of the flu.
How severe is the flu this year?
Influenza complications can affect the heart, lower respiratory tract, and central nervous system, sometimes resulting in death. Hospitalizations and death due to the flu have been higher than normal this season. However, they seem to be following an expected pattern in proportion to the number of infections. While data is still being collected, the flu does not seem to be particularly more severe this year than in previous years.
What other factors are affecting the 2022-2023 flu season?
Influenza is not the only illness that has taken off rapidly this season. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is spreading at an abnormally high rate, and COVID-19 is still circulating. Together, these have put a strain on hospital systems.
It is likely that reduced health regulations around COVID-19 has influenced the increase in flu and RSV infections. Measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing prevented exposure not only to COVID-19 but to many other respiratory viruses. Now that these measures have lessened, people are being exposed or re-exposed to viruses that their immune systems are not used to fighting. It takes some time for immunity to rebuild to protect against these viruses.
How can I protect myself and my child against the flu?
Remember the importance of vaccinating yourself and your children every flu season. If your last vaccination was in the spring or earlier, it will not protect for the current season. We recommend getting a vaccination for yourself and your children as soon as possible to protect against this year’s strains of influenza.
Due to influenza’s ability to constantly mutate and evolve, no vaccine provides 100% protection against the flu, but it significantly reduces your chance of contracting the virus. More importantly, even if you or your child gets the flu, the vaccine is highly effective at reducing the severity of the illness. This means that life-threatening complications are much less likely to occur in your child if they receive the flu shot. Studies have shown that children who receive the flu vaccine are 74% less likely to be admitted to the pediatric ICU, and are much less likely to die from the flu.
Getting the flu vaccine doesn’t just protect you – it also protects those whose immune systems are too weak to receive the vaccine. The more people who are immune to the flu, the less chance the flu virus has to spread and evolve.
In addition to getting vaccinated, some healthy habits to help prevent you from getting sick are: washing your hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your coughs or sneezes, staying home when you’re sick, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.