Each year, roughly 8 percent of the population of the U.S. gets the flu. Even mild cases can leave you feeling miserable, and there is a risk of developing more severe flu symptoms that could land you in the hospital. Knowing the answer to the common question "when is flu season?" can help you be prepared to practice prevention strategies that can make you less likely to become an influenza statistic.
What Is Flu Season?
Influenza is often called a cyclical epidemic. This means that it follows a pattern with outbreaks returning every year. The time period when most flu cases occur is called flu season.
When Does Flu Season Start?
The start of flu season varies each year, and there are often geographical variations as well. Typically, flu cases start to rise in the fall, with spread increasing in the winter. The start of flu season is tied to the weather. When temperatures get colder, people begin spending more time indoors. This puts individuals in closer contact with one another and creates prime conditions for the spread of the flu.
What Is Herd Immunity?
To understand the answer to the question "when is flu season over?" you must first know a bit about herd immunity. Once the season starts, flu spreads more and more quickly until herd immunity to the circulating strain is reached, or the weather improves, and people begin to go outdoors again.
Herd immunity means that a large majority of a community is immune to an infectious illness. When this happens, the illness becomes unlikely to spread even to those who do not have immunity. People become resistant to flu strains either by contracting the virus previously or through a vaccine.
When Does Flu Season End?
As you might have guessed, the end of flu season is as variable as its beginning. Typically, cases begin to dwindle gradually in the spring. When warmer weather comes earlier, flu season is likely to end prematurely.
A Look at History
According to the CDC, during the last 36 years, flu season has most often peaked in February. December is the second most common peak month, with January and March tying for third place. The CDC provides flu statistics on their website. You can keep tabs on the data during the fall to see when flu season is in full swing. Your state or local health department may also provide data to help you track flu season.
How to Prevent the Flu
While there is no one flu prevention tip that is 100 percent effective, taking the following steps can make you less likely to come down with the virus:
- Keep Your Distance. Avoid having close contact with individuals who show signs of the flu, such as a fever, coughing, a sore throat, a runny nose, headaches, and muscle or body aches. If you have to care for a loved one with the flu, do your best to limit your contact to when it is necessary. Wearing cloth or disposable non-medical masks can provide some protection from the flu when you can't avoid contact.
- Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water can go a long way toward preventing the flu. When you can't wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Be Hands Off. Flu viruses enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid touching these areas of your face as much as possible. When you can't be hands-off because you need to complete a task like flossing your teeth or putting in contact lenses, wash or sanitize your hands immediately before.
- Maintain a Clean Environment. Clean your mobile devices, computer keyboards, and frequently touched surfaces in your home and workspace regularly. Don't forget things like light switches, doorknobs, appliance handles, and faucets.
- Get Your Rest. Sleep is vital to immune system function. Most adults need six to eight hours of sleep at night. Your doctor can provide you with specific advice regarding how much sleep you should get each night.
- Take Care of Yourself. Regular exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in nutrients can boost flu immunity by helping your body function at its best. Studies show that stress can make people more susceptible to illness, so make time to relax and unwind daily, especially during flu season months.
- Roll Up Your Sleeve. Flu shots are not fully effective at preventing flu, but they can increase your chances of staying healthy. Research shows that even if you contract the virus after a flu shot, your symptoms are likely to be less severe and last for a shorter time. Plus, getting vaccinated helps to boost herd immunity for flu in your community.
Not only will these tips reduce your risk of catching the flu, but they are the same advice that experts give on how to prevent a cold and other airborne infectious illnesses. While there are a distinct cold and flu season, you should follow these tips throughout the year to promote good health.