En español | As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, another potentially fatal virus — influenza — is still circulating in most parts of the U.S., having caused an estimated 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This year's vaccine seems to be working well against the strains of the virus causing most illnesses, according to the CDC's midseason vaccine effectiveness data, which estimates that the flu shot has reduced doctor's visits for flu by about 45 percent overall.
That's good news in light of the fact that the 2019-2020 flu season has been dominated by two waves of flu activity: Illnesses early in the season were caused mostly by a flu strain known as influenza B (which has hit children and young adults under 25 the hardest); the current predominant strain is H1N1, an influenza A virus.
With both types of the virus continuing to circulate, health officials still encourage vaccination for anyone who hasn't yet rolled up a sleeve for the flu shot. While flu activity typically peaks between December and February, it can persist as late as May and is expected to continue for weeks, according to the CDC.
Experts stress that the flu shot not only helps prevent illness in the first place, but can also make the flu less severe for those who get it even after vaccination — something particularly important for older adults and those with preexisting conditions — groups particularly susceptible to flu-related complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections.
Other than the flu shot, commonsense preventive measures — such as thorough handwashing with soap and water and avoiding those who are sick — can help stop the spread of illness.