This is likely to be the worst flu season in 13 years: flu is early & ‘looks very severe’

As if we didn’t have enough to handle with covid still hanging around, officials are now predicting this is likely to be the worst flu season in 13 years. Officials look at various data to track flu season activity and patterns and apparently pretty much everything just points to bad news. The flu lingered for longer than usual last season, this season it is hitting earlier and harder than is typical, and it is not following the same patterns as it usually does in either hemisphere.

Influenza is hitting the United States unusually early and hard, resulting in the most hospitalizations at this point in the season in more than a decade and underscoring the potential for a perilous winter of respiratory viruses, according to federal health data released Friday.

While flu season is usually between October and May, peaking in December and January, it’s arrived about six weeks earlier this year with uncharacteristically high illness. There have already been at least 880,000 cases of influenza illness, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 flu-related deaths nationally, including one child, according to estimates released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not since the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic has there been such a high burden of flu, a metric the CDC uses to estimate a season’s severity based on laboratory-confirmed cases, doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths.

“It’s unusual, but we’re coming out of an unusual covid pandemic that has really affected influenza and other respiratory viruses that are circulating,” said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist who heads the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team.

Activity is high in the U.S. south and southeast, and is starting to move up the Atlantic coast.

The CDC uses a variety of measures to track the flu, including estimating the percentage of doctor visits for flu-like illness. But given the similar symptoms that could include people seeking care for covid-19 or RSV, another respiratory virus with similar symptoms, the laboratory data leaves no doubt.

“The data are ominous,” said William Schaffner, medical director for the nonprofit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Not only is flu early, it also looks very severe. This is not just a preview of coming attractions. We’re already starting to see this movie. I would call it a scary movie.”

Adding to his concern, he said, is that influenza vaccination is lagging behind where it usually is at this point in the season. About 128 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed so far, compared with 139 million at this point last year and 154 million the year before, according to the CDC.

“That makes me doubly worried,” Schaffner said. The high burden of the flu “certainly looks like the start of what could be the worst flu season in 13 years.”

The number of flu cases this season is already one-eighth of last season’s total estimate of 8 to 13 million cases.

The flu vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing a doctor visit, hospitalization or death is uneven from year to year, and in years past, has hovered between 40 and 60 percent, according to the CDC. But Brammer and others say this season’s vaccine is well matched against circulating strains. That offers a “little ray of sunshine” for what could be a bleak winter, Schaffner said.

[From The Washington Post]

Not only has the flu arrived early, but it looks more severe than it usually does. The number of flu cases at this point in the season is already one-eighth of last year’s total. So we are on track to beat last year’s record. Lovely. Basically, get your flu shots, people. The shot is said to be pretty effective against this year’s strains. And officials attribute part of this flu’s particular strength to covid, the currently circulating respiratory illnesses, and the reluctance to vaccinate. So get the shot and protect yourself and others. Even if you think you can handle the illness, you shouldn’t have to and the people you come into contact with certainly shouldn’t have to either. The flu could affect people for weeks after recovery and could result in complications for the very young, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions. The only way to guard against this triple threat (covid, flu, and RSV in children) is to get as vaccinated as possible.

Photos credit: Andrea Piacquadio and Cottonbro on Pexels and CDC on Unsplash

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59 Responses to “This is likely to be the worst flu season in 13 years: flu is early & ‘looks very severe’”

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  1. Lolo86lf says:

    The flu shot hurts your arm but it is worth it. It’s better to feel like someone punched your shoulder than being in bed with severe flu symptoms for 7 days.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Got it Thursday along with Covid 4. I took Tylenol and Aleve and still just tossed and turn all-night with the body aches. Was useless the next day. I don’t say that to deter others. That discomfort means your body is building new antibodies. Celebrate it because we’re gonna need them this winter.

    • Dee says:

      I got my flu shot in early October at an employee health fair. I was working, so I was moving my arm all morning afterward. I’m going to credit that with having no sore arm and no ill after effects, even though I’ve experienced that in past years. I wish I’d gotten that nurse’s number to track her down for next year’s shot!

      • Kelly says:

        I got my flu and COVID booster mid September because I had the flu at the beginning of October a few years back when it was still 90 degrees. I’m sick right now, but with bronchitis apparently. But I’m super thankful the flu test turned up negative and I don’t have corona either! I’m already hearing nightmare stories about the ick that’s going around-the nurse who tested me actually asked if I was a teacher.

    • Col says:

      I found this flu shot really mild, no soreness or side effects.

      • windyriver says:

        Likewise. Just some soreness for about a day if I touched my upper arm.

        But I get the flu shot by itself. Don’t know if that makes a difference for some people – my sister got both together and didn’t have a problem.

        Had the Covid booster (Pfizer) 10 days later. I expected more of a reaction to that shot based on past experience, but apart from some slight tiredness the next day, nothing. Don’t know about Moderna, but other relatives who got the latest Pfizer booster had the same experience, little or no aftereffects.

      • lucy2 says:

        Same for me, just a mild soreness at the injection for a day or so. No other effects.
        I always get my flu shot, it’s amazing how many people don’t. And how many people won’t mask, wash hands, avoid crowds, etc, despite the past 2 years.

      • amilu says:

        Same, Col. I got double-vaccinated – one in each arm. My Covid booster arm hurt like a MF for a couple of days, but I didn’t feel a thing in the flu shot arm.

  2. heylee says:

    My four year old and seven year old have been sick with different colds, etc., for the past 6 weeks. I keep waiting for a “well window” so I can get them the flu shot. Thank you for this article because it prompted me to schedule them, today!

    • liz says:

      My teenager got both the flu shot and COVID booster at their university, which did a big vaccine drive about two weeks ago. It was “come to the student center and get your vaccinations” for a few days. In the middle of campus, in the same building as their biggest dining hall. Kiddo said the wait wasn’t bad and a lot of people were getting their shots.

      I was scheduled for mine, but tested positive for COVID two days before I was supposed to get them. Now I can’t get the COVID booster for a while. I was able to reschedule the flu shot for next week.

      I had the flu about 10 years ago. I had not been that sick since I’d had the chicken pox at 17 years old. I have not been that sick since then (COVID was mild for me). I do not want to go through that again. I will take a sore arm for a day or so. No question.

      • DeltaJuliet says:

        OMG yes, I had Influenza-A about 10 years ago and I thought I was going to DIE. Incidentally it was the one year in maybe the last 20 that I hadn’t gotten my flu shot, and the first year they didn’t offer it at my work.

      • Nikki says:

        Years ago, a previously healthy friend of mine, only in his 40’s and with no serious conditions, DIED of the flu. I’d seen him within the week and told him to keep drinking ginger ale, he looked pretty wiped out. Since that terrible shock, I’ve gotten a flu shot every year.

  3. JustBitchy says:

    The shot doesn’t hurt at all – that’s my experience. I have never felt that I had been punched in the arm.

    • kayfree says:

      This year was the easiest in memory. I had no injection site pain or soreness at all with the flu shot. The flu hit my office and the closest grade school, but so far so good for me. I can’t recommended it enough!

      • Betsy says:

        Same. I literally didn’t even feel the needle let alone the serum this time and I didn’t have any injection site soreness. I also got my second booster at the same time (different arm, that one did give a little soreness).

    • AuntRara says:

      Same here. Sometimes I get a feeling like I lifted something heavy the day before and my muscle is a little sore, but I’ve had influenza and it was AWFUL. I was healthy and in my early 30’s and I was scared by how sick I was. If you’re on the fence about the shot, GET IT.

    • Mary Tosti says:

      Same for me… my covid shots hurt and made my arm feel heavy, but I’ve never had pain with the flu shot. Also, my covid shots got less painful each time.

    • It Really Is You, Not Me says:

      I didn’t feel fluish that night or have a soreness at the injection site the next day like I usually do. I actually wondered if that meant the Vaccination didn’t take. Does anybody know if that is a thing?

      • Wendy says:

        No. Your body doesn’t have to experience soreness or flu symptoms after vaccination in order for the vaccination to “take”. I get the flu vaccine every year, and I’m fully vaxxed and twice boosted for covid — some years I’ve felt a bit icky for a day or two after the flu vax, some years I haven’t felt anything, but in all my years of getting the flu vax I’ve never gotten the flu regardless of how I felt in the day or two after getting the vax. I felt a little icky after my second covid vax, but nothing at all on the first, third or fourth rounds, and to date I still have not had covid.

      • Bettyrose says:

        I think it has to do with your body’s need for new antibodies. Everyone is different.

      • BeanieBean says:

        I’ve never had problems with the flu shot, & the COVID shots have only resulted in some localized redness & swelling. I started to the same thoughts, too, re: ‘have these been effective’ because so many people I know had flulike symptoms with each, but no–my doc says everyone’s different & you are fine.

    • Bikny says:

      I’ve never had a problem with the flu shot and get it every year. I als didn’t have any problems with the covid shots, 2 for the 1st then 2 boosters.

    • Carmen says:

      Me neither. I got my flu shot in September and my covid booster last month. No problems with either.

  4. Seraphina says:

    Got mine both on same day (COVID and Flu). Didn’t feel too good that evening and next felt like I was catching a cold. Arms hurt too. BUT I’ll take it over having the flu. Been there, done that. No thanks.

    • StellainNH says:

      I did Covid and flu together last year and I felt incredibly grumpy. So grumpy that I really couldn’t stand myself. I staggered them two weeks apart this time.

      I still wear a mask when I go into stores. The nursing home that a family member is in still does temperature checks and information for contact tracing. I’m very grateful for that.

      • Seraphina says:

        I wear a mask as well. We skipped a wedding party and found out that a guest had COVID but didn’t know until she went to nursing facility and found out through temp check.
        It’s still out there and I know of some who have COVID and flu. No thanks. I’d rather get vaccinated.

    • Tiffany:) says:

      I got both on Sunday, one in each arm. They both were pretty sore the next day, and I was tired and had a headache, but it’s worth it for protection again serious illness.

      • Trillian says:

        Same here, got both yesterday. Luckily today is a public holiday here so I can take it easy.

  5. Suze says:

    I’m so glad we got our flu shots in September. We have a 3.5 year old who’s already brought home two nasty colds, and with a newborn in the house we don’t need to add the flu to the mix as well.

    Stay safe, get your flu shot, wash your hands, and keep masking!

    • Giddy says:

      I ordered new masks, the KF94 ones recommended here last week. They really are an improvement, as they are a little farther from your face, don’t make you so hot, or steam up glasses. We have had Covid and flu shots. I would have gotten the shots anyway, but I had back surgery a month ago, and the hospital required them. That was fine with me. I’d go get another one if allowed. It’s been 12 years since my husband and I had flu at the same time. We were so sick that we were completely helpless, and it was awful.

      • QuiteContrary says:

        Yes, thanks to whoever recommended those masks. I ordered them and really like them, too. My stash was getting low, as I’ve masked indoors throughout the pandemic.
        Because I’m immunocompromised, I’ve gotten my flu and COVID shots religiously (a pneumonia one, too). I think I’ll mask every cold and flu season now.

  6. Emmi says:

    Got my shot last week and have heard from friends that some doctors really do not think you need this unless you’re 60+ or have preexisting conditions (that’s when it is definitely recommended in Germany). Mine is thankfully not like that and I would have just demanded it anyway but it really pisses me off. I had the flu once. I was healthy and 25 years old. I was in bed for 10 days and it took me nearly 3 months to fully recover. It is horrendous. And I’m really worried tbh. Healthcare workers are barely holding up. I had surgery this summer and am so grateful that everyone was so committed and caring and friendly. Frankly, I would have understood if they had just done the bare minimum. Let’s not make their lives (and ours) harder.

    • manda says:

      Right? I had the flu once in college and it made my body ache soooooo much. I just remember my hips hurt so bad, I made my parents buy me a new mattress (it was during winter break), I’ve never been so sick. Right now I have a cold and it is miserable!

      • Emmi says:

        I remember my skin hurting. Every inch felt like it was inflamed and ever touch of fabric hurt. I’m stocking up on masks and had sanitizer.

      • Bettyrose says:

        That’s exactly the experience I had last year. Skin hurting. I’d never felt anything like that. It wasn’t as bad this year.

    • B says:

      Emmi- I am a physician and what you are saying your friends said sounds so off to me that I have to wonder if they are reporting correctly.
      Maybe they just said that to shut down the encouragement to go? Any doctor should understand that only vaccinating your most vulnerable members while letting it freely circulate in the rest of the population is a terrible idea.
      This is part of why we have so many new Covid variants – the vaccination rates have been terrible.

      • Emmi says:

        Unfortunately, the flu vaccine isn’t super popular here. There is still a lot of misinformation out there, especially among younger people. Years ago my doctor told me the same, that I’m young and healthy and don’t necessarily need it. I have since switched doctors. My bff works in a hospital so she insisted on the vaccine but she definitely got a weird vibe from the doctor, who btw was also not super invested in her getting the second Covid booster either. She has a baby at home so she is not letting anyone stop her. But the official recommendation from our CDC (RKI) is to get the flu vaccine if you’re 60+ or have a health issue. Not every insurance even covers it if you don’t fall into that group.

      • ML says:

        I can back up what @Emmi says: here in the Netherlands, only vulnerable people and 60+-ers are eligible. Unfortunately for me, that means no shot. They really do believe that letting the flu circulate is better, and I really wish I could get the jab instead.

  7. Brassy Rebel says:

    Definitely get your 💉, both for flu and Covid booster. You also might want to consider masking up again in public spaces and with people outside of your own household.

    • equality says:

      I haven’t ever quit masking in a lot of situations, especially if surrounded by strangers.

  8. manda says:

    Yeah, they usually tell you to wait until october to get your flu shot, but this year they said get it asap. They are also saying that colds will be worse this year

    • ZeeEnnui says:

      Yep. I got my bivalent booster and flu shot together in mid-September. I was worried I was getting the flu shot too soon but the pharmacist at CVS told me it was going to be bad this year and to get it as soon as possible. Other than a two-hour window where I had to lie down and felt like I was underwater, I had no real side effects from my shots.

      I came down with a really bad head cold last week. I’m feeling better this week. Took a Covid test, and tested positive over the weekend. I was bummed about losing my unicorn status after managing to not contract Covid for nearly 3 years. Lost bragging rights, but it was a good run. I am grateful that I have all my shots. My sinuses felt like they were going to explode for the better part of 5 days but I haven’t had any other weird issues.

  9. MaryContrary says:

    Right before covid, one of my son’s best friends (super healthy, no underlying conditions 11 year old) got the flu and almost died. He was in the hospital for weeks. I take the flu very, very seriously and make sure we all get our flu shots. It doesn’t always match up, but I want to make sure I’m doing the most I can do to have us stay healthy.

  10. NotSoSocialB says:

    I got influenza A back in the mid 2000s. I have never been so sick in my life. It was horrible. I thought I was going to die bc of a mucous plug in my lung- albuterol nebulizer literally saved my life as it dilated my smaller airways enough to cough it out. Fever over 104. Never again. And Tamiflu was like a toxin- I felt poisoned- I swear that shiz crosses the blood-brain barrier.

    I’ve never stopped masking, I don’t GAF how many people look at me as if I’m nuts. This winter is going to be the worst yet. Nurses are going to quit. Beds will again be unavailable for MIs, appendicitis, MVAs, CVAs, etc.

    I think I read early on from Dena Grayson or Laurie Garrett on twitter that the covid pandemic was predicted to last eight years. EIGHT FKN YEARS.

    • ShazBot says:

      Yeah I got the flu in my early 20s and wanted to die for like 10 days. It was BRUTAL, I couldn’t believe how sick I was.
      I’m also an always masker…I just know too much from reading research. People are probably sicker this year because COVID disrupts the immune system for an indeterminate amount of time. Would rather mask and avoid all communicable illnesses thankyouverymuch

      • NotSoSocialB says:

        Was just texting w son at college, he was saying he’s been sick for months- he says he’s never had covid 🙄- I reminded him that it still spreads asymptomatically, and more research shows it disrupts the immune system…then reminded him to get his flu vax asap.

    • theotherviv says:

      I am with you on this and I may wear a mask for 8 yrs if I need to. I don’t care what people think. I was on flights between Spain, UK, Germany and Morocco last month and no more than 5 people wore a mask. I have been asked by people why I am wearing a mask when it is no longer mandated and I now routinely reply „I don’t want to give you my covid“ .
      My friend had Influenza A and COVID at the same time and was a wreck. I am getting a flu shot asap.

    • Carmen says:

      I’ve had it three times. The second time almost landed me in the hospital. I developed pneumonia on top of the flu. Now I get my shot every year. Haven’t had it since.

  11. RMS says:

    I got my flu shot 2 weeks ago (I am severely immunocompromised), and THANK GOD! I was exposed to someone on a flight and am now ill, wretched cough and congestion, but I am NOT hospitalized because it’s ‘mild’. Even mild, this has to be the nastiest cough I have ever had – don’t fart around with this year’s flu, it’s a doozy. Never ever taking off mask to eat or drink on a flight again, learned that one the hard way.

  12. whatever says:

    We usually don’t get our flu shots until early October, because our doctor told us that flu season doesn’t really kick into high gear in our area until late November at the earliest, and that if we get our flu shots too early we won’t be as well protected for the peak of flu season. So imagine our surprise when we were diagnosed with flu strand A in SEPTEMBER.

    We had covid back in May, and honestly, it was nothing compared to the flu. To be fair, we were fully vaccinated and twice boosted for covid before we caught it, and we had no immunization protection from this season’s flu when we caught it. But covid, for us, was like an annoying cold that we could function through, whereas the flu absolutely flattened us for weeks. It turned into pneumonia for me, and it’s been six weeks, and I’m still struggling to get back to my normal energy level. It was brutal.

    Next week we go get our flu shots so we’re fully protected against BOTH strands. I don’t want to risk getting the flu again. It was much worse than I ever would have guessed.

    • Doodle says:

      My son got a mild case of the flu and was out of school for a week. Even with the all clear to go back, the warm up with gym class makes him vomit. We have to take him on daily walks now to get his body slowly used to easy exercise and he is voluntarily putting himself to
      Bed half an hour early, even on a five day weekend a week after he has recovered. This is no joke you guys. Get the shot.

  13. AA says:

    Please get your flu shot. I had it scheduled for last Friday (along with a covid booster) and a few days before that was diagnosed with Influenza A. I know who I caught it from – a friend who started feeling sick shortly after I saw him and two days before me. He was also diagnosed with it. I still don’t feel right over a week later. I thought I had some time before I had to get the shot as I was really busy at work and just wanted to avoid feeling sick for a few days so I postponed it. Ugh. Get it now! Now my doctor told me to wait 3 weeks before getting either (covid booster or flu shot).

  14. Jessica says:

    Yeah I work in urgent care in the south and Black Friday is usually the start of our busy season, but we’ve been packed out for weeks already. It’s all flu, a Covid sprinkled in every few days. I’ve never seen flu come on this quickly and this hard.

  15. Aud says:

    My husband has it right now and it sucks. We were going to get shots over the weekend but he is too ill. Going on day 7 of this now.

  16. Nicegirl says:

    Please stay safe celebitches, 🖖 💕 ✌️! Vaccines 💉 save lives.

  17. Lionel says:

    I think anyone who says “eh, I can handle the flu” hasn’t had true influenza. SO many people get a bad cold and call it “the flu” or actually think they have “the flu.” The way we call any stomach bug “the stomach flu” doesn’t help (guilty as charged!) We should start calling diagnosed flu “influenza” to differentiate, just as we differentiate confirmed COVID from a cold even if a case is mild. I got influenza exactly once in my life and with God as my witness I will never again forego the flu shot, because when I was sick with it my teeth hurt and my hair follicles hurt and my skin hurt and I wanted to die. That’s “the flu.”

    • NotSoSocialB says:

      Agreed. I had it 15/17 years ago. I have never been so sick and so scared in my life- I got a mucous plug in my lung, duper short of breath- panic stricken, fever over 104 (40 ish, 3 young kids), everything hurt, night sweats, nearly delirious. It was horrifying.

  18. Christine says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been so busy and have had to cxl the appt. I made. Just made a new one.

  19. Libby says:

    I am pregnant and the amount of misinformation and flu/covid vaccine intimidation and straight up lies on pregnancy boards is WILD. WILDDD!! I had a baby back in 2019 too and it was nothing like it is now. Literally people went insane about vaccines since covid and 1. they all think they experts after watching a Facebook/Youtube video and 2. are fully anti-any kind of vaccination.

    I’ve tried to reply back with articles and DATA but these people are so very stuck in their misinformation. It’s really scary and I worry about the future.