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When Is Flu Season?

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Updated May 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: When Is Flu Season?
Answer:

Flu season typically occurs in the United States between October and April. This means that flu activity starts to increase in the fall and increases through the winter until it peaks, then declines into the spring. Although the flu is more common during this time of year, it actually does circulate (and can make you sick) year-round.

Peak of Flu Season

Flu activity usually peaks around January or February, but may come earlier or later depending on the virus that is circulating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has kept records of flu activity levels since the 1976-77 flu season. Since that time, flu activity has peaked in February 16 times, in January 7 times, in March 4 times, in December 4 times, in April twice, and once in both October and November.

Preparing for Flu Season

So now you know when the flu is most common, but what do you do about it? There is actually a lot you can do to prepare for and prevent the flu. Although these things may not guarantee that you'll be able to avoid the flu, they definitely minimize your chances of getting it and are far better than doing nothing at all.

  • Get a Flu Vaccine
    No, getting a flu vaccine isn't fun, but it is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Plus, there are many options out there for people who don't like needles. Whether or not you can get an alternative to the regular shot will depend on your age and health conditions, but it's worth checking into.
  • Educate Yourself About Treatment Options
    There are medications out there to help treat the flu. They aren't for everyone, but if your health care provider feels they can benefit you, they can be used to shorten the duration of your symptoms or even help prevent you from getting sick if you can't get a flu vaccine.
  • Know What to Expect
    Millions of people believe they have the flu when they start vomiting and having diarrhea. But those symptoms are caused by a completely different virus and the flu vaccine won't prevent you from getting that (sorry). Influenza causes symptoms like fevers, body aches, coughing and extreme fatigue. Make sure you know what the flu really is so you will recognize it if you or someone you know gets it.
  • Keep Over-the-Counter Medications on Hand
    The last thing you will want to do if you get sick is go to the store to buy medication, so make sure you are stocked up before flu season starts. Buy your preferred cold and flu medications when they are on sale and you'll be prepared and save money. This list gives you information on many of the options that are out there and how each of them may help with your symptoms.
  • More Prevention Tips
    Doing things like washing your hands and avoiding people who are sick may sound like common sense, but you would be amazed at the number of people who don't follow these simple guidelines. Washing your hands is something that should be universally practiced but a lot of people don't do it or don't do it right, and this allows germs to spread like wildfire. Make sure you are following these basic precautions to keep yourself healthy through cold and flu season.

Sources:

The Flu Season. Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 10 Aug 11. US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 May 12.

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