3 Times You Risk Catching the Flu

Flu season is gearing up nationwide. A U-M infectious diseases expert explains how the virus spreads — and crucial ways to protect yourself.

1:00 PM

Author | Kevin Joy

We're well into the new year, but flu season isn't over.

"I don't think we've reached the peak yet," says Emily Shuman, M.D., an assistant professor of internal medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

She's probably right: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just at the end of January that the flu had become widespread in most of the United States. Flu-related hospitalizations are continuing to rise, CDC data show.

Although the flu's arrival and exit vary slightly each year — the 2016 outbreak lasted well into the spring, Shuman says — flu season generally peaks during January and February.

That's because we're cooped up indoors during the dark and chilly months, allowing an easier exchange of germs. The onset of colder, drier air is also thought to play a role; studies have shown flu germs survive longer when humidity drops.

Thanks to these factors and others, the virus' origins and life cycles repeat predictably: Most flu strains originate in Asia and the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season occurs in their winter, Shuman says. And each year the transmission mechanics remain the same.

Shuman explains when you're most at risk:

What to do if you catch the flu

Although most people never plan to get sick, it's crucial to stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the virus. And, Shuman says, "you can be spreading the virus for a day or two before you start to get symptoms." The key signs include fever, cough, chills, aching muscles and fatigue.

SEE ALSO: Don't Worry About the Antibacterial Soap Ban; Just Wash Properly

Rest and fluids are the best remedy for most people. High-risk populations such as senior citizens should seek immediate medical attention and antiviral treatments — which need to be administered within the first 48 hours of illness to be effective, Shuman says.

Why you should get vaccinated

Although many doctors advise patients to get their flu shots in the fall (or whenever the vaccines are first available), it isn't too late to get the shot now. "I don't think there's really any point where it's too late," Shuman says.

The CDC recommends anyone older than 6 months get a flu shot annually. Because the flu virus mutates each year, protection from a prior shot isn't necessarily effective. A vaccine must be reformulated annually to match the strains expected to be prevalent.

More Articles About: Preventative health and wellness Flu Immunizations infectious disease
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories arm strong muscle band aid UM
Health Lab
Flu could come raging back
Vaccination is especially important for vulnerable groups,
1918 crowd in public area with trolleys in black and white
Health Lab
People Gave Up on Flu Pandemic Measures a Century Ago When They Tired of Them – and Paid a Price
The deadly third wave of the 1918 flu shows what can happen when society prematurely returns to pre-pandemic life, a medical historian cautions.
Old image of 1910 nurses
Health Lab
Think This Flu Season Is Bad? Flash Back 100 Years
The 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed millions. What can it teach us about preventing the spread of infections today?
Health Lab
4 Things You Need to Know Right Now to Protect Yourself from the Flu
Get answers to your most pressing questions about this year's flu, including what symptoms to be concerned about, from the University of Michigan.
Health Lab
Flu Can Be Deadly for Older Adults. So Why Don’t We Do More to Protect Them?
When you get a flu shot, it helps protect those around you, including those at risk of dangerous flu complications. A new poll highlights the importance of such protection.
pills floating blue pink dark background physician in middle looking at chart white coat scrubs
Health Lab
Better medical record-keeping needed to fight antibiotic overuse, studies suggest
Efforts to reduce overuse of antibiotics may be hampered by incomplete medical records that don’t show the full reasons for prescriptions.