Nearly all states have widespread flu activity.

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More than 15 million people have had the flu this year. Getty Images

Flu activity rose significantly over the last week, with nearly every state in the union now reporting widespread activity. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) expects influenza activity to remain elevated for the next several weeks.

Since October 1, 2018, there have been up to 15.2 million cases of the flu, up to 7.2 million flu medical visits, and up to 186,000 flu-related hospitalizations, the CDC estimates. Adults ages 65 and older have the highest hospitalization rate, followed by children younger than five years.

Deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza have been hovering at or above the national threshold for the past few weeks, including at least 28 pediatric deaths so far.

Despite the fact that this year’s overall flu activity is turning out to be milder than last year’s, doctors are still encouraging anyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated. Flu season can last until May, and several more cases of the flu are expected to be diagnosed before the season is over.

Within the last week or so, the number of states reporting widespread activity increased from 45 to 47 states. The states with the most severe activity include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

The flu strain called H1N1 has been the most commonly reported strain throughout the country this year, with flu strain H3N2 being the predominant strain in the southeastern region of the United States.

And the CDC reported that this year’s vaccine is proving to be very effective. While it’s still too early to say exactly how effective it’s been, the 2018-2019 vaccine is a better match to the dominant strains that are circulating this season.

“Typically, H3N2 is particularly virulent, and vaccines targeting it are less effective than those aimed at other strains, so H3N2 infections tend to be more severe,” Dr. David Mushatt, an infectious disease specialist and section chief of infectious diseases at Tulane University, told Healthline. “So if H1N1 continues to be the predominant strain this year, unlike last year, then it will be a less severe flu season.”

It’s not too late to get a shot, which is your best line of defense against influenza.

“There are many benefits to vaccination, including reducing the risk of flu illness, doctor visits, hospitalization, and even death in children. Flu vaccination also has been shown to reduce severity of illness among people who get vaccinated but still get sick,” the CDC stated.

Those who’ve already had the flu this year should consider getting vaccinated as well.

“Even if you’ve already had the flu this season, getting the vaccine once you recover will help protect you from other strains because it’s possible to get the flu more than once a season,” Dr. Frank Illuzzi, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and chief medical officer of CityMD, said.

If you start to experience flu symptoms, it’s important to visit your doctor or an urgent care as soon as possible.

“If you develop symptoms of the flu — such as fever, chills, and aches and pains — it’s best to start an antiviral medication within 24 to 48 hours,” Mushatt said.

There’s no cure for the flu, but if taken within 48 hours, these medications can help you recover more quickly. The sooner you begin taking antivirals, the more benefit you’ll get from them.

“The longer you wait, the more damage the flu virus does to your body and the more the antiviral needs to catch up,” he said.

In addition, doctors recommend staying home to avoid spreading the flu further. This is especially important if you work in a setting with those most vulnerable to the flu, such as older people or small children. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter medications for fever and achiness.

While the vaccine is your best bet to protect yourself against influenza, health experts recommend the second best thing: washing your hands and using hand sanitizer frequently. Steer clear of people who are sick and avoid public surfaces and touch screens, which are known hotspots for harmful bacteria.

As the peak of flu season approaches, it’s crucial to take these necessary preventive measures and consider getting the flu shot if you haven’t already.

Flu activity continued to increase this week, with 47 states now reporting widespread activity. While this year’s flu activity is milder than last year, doctors say it’s still not too late to get the flu vaccine because flu season can last until May.