ROCKVILLE, Md. (WDVM) — The flu season hit the nation earlier than usual, and it’s still picking up.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza is considered widespread in at least 23 states throughout the country, including Maryland and Virginia.
This year, the flu season began earlier than the usual early-October rise.
“We’re seeing a little bit of an uptick in cases a little bit earlier than we have historically, particularly compared to last year,” explained Dr. Travis Gayles with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
More than 2.5 million flu illnesses have been reported according to the CDC. So far, 1,300 people have died from the flu.
According to the CDC, the seasonal flu activity in the United States has been elevated for five weeks and continues to increase.
So what can you do to prevent yourself from falling ill? First, know the difference between the common cold and the influenza virus.
“The common cold is just like your common cold; you’ve got a cough maybe, runny nose, a little bit of a fever. The real difference with flu-like symptoms is you’re talking about headaches, more significant fever, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal symptoms,” explained Dr. Gayles.
And the best way to protect yourself from getting either illness? Plenty of soap and water.
“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” Dr. Gayles stressed, “and in addition to washing your hands, I think just being very careful about how we come into contact with other folks.”
The flu is spread by droplets made when someone coughs or sneezes and can easily travel on surfaces or by touch. Health experts advise you to clean off keyboards, phones, and desks regularly.
The CDC also advises keeping away from those who are sick. And if you fall ill, it’s a good idea to stay home for your own health and for the health of others.
“If they have a fever, they should stay home. If they have a fever, and you give them Tylenol and for a couple of hours they feel better, you don’t know that they’re really better, they should stay home,” explained nurse administrator with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Mindy McCartin.
Over 170 million doses of the flu vaccine have been administered, and health officials say it’s not too late to get a shot.