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Doctors Share What to Know About Flu Season and How to Stay Out of the ER

Flu cases are increasing across the United States. Doctors explain what you need to know and how to help avoid the hospital. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The number of flu cases is soaring and new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "Seven influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported this week, for a total of 21 pediatric flu deaths reported so far this season. The CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations, and 7,300 deaths from flu." Dr. Lisa Doggett, Family Physician, Senior Medical Director, Sagility tells us, "In the U.S., we are seeing a concerning trend of low influenza immunization rates compared to previous seasons, creating a public health concern and a risk to the capacity of health systems. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases survey, which measures consumer intent to receive a flu vaccine, only 49% of people said they plan to get vaccinated against influenza this season, and the numbers are even lower than that to date, with significantly fewer people being vaccinated at this point in the season compared to the past two years. The rise in cases is due in part to the low vaccination rates and limited COVID-19 mitigation practices in place."

As a result of an uptick of cases, hospitals in several states are overwhelmed with patients including California. The Los Angeles Times reports, "A "tripledemic" of COVID-19, the flu and RSV is hitting Southern California hard, sending patients to the emergency room in droves and presenting a steep new challenge for a healthcare system already worn thin by nearly three years of the pandemic." Dr. Kimberly Shriner, medical director of infection prevention at Huntington Health told the outlet,  "When you have the convergence of three very serious respiratory viruses, it puts a huge burden on emergency departments and also on the hospital itself."  

To make matters worse, pharmacies are running out of popular over-the-counter medications due to an increased high demand for flu antivirals like Tamiful. TODAY reports, "GoodRx, a digital health care platform, has been tracking fills for Tamiflu and its generic oseltamivir throughout the 2022-2023 flu season. "Our initial data shows that fills are higher at this time of year than they have been since 2013," Tori Marsh, director of research at GoodRx, tells "The fill rate reached a season high two weeks ago (Nov 20 to 26), where the percent fill rate was 14.7 times higher than the average of the same time point in all previous years," says Marsh. 

Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with doctors who share ways to fight the flu and help stay out of the ER. As always, please consult your physician for medical advice and if you're feeling sick please speak with your doctor. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why You Should Take Flu Season Seriously

tired nurse, burnout

Dr. Doggett explains, "Public health authorities, news media and healthcare workers are sounding the alarm on the prevalence of respiratory diseases across the country and its impact on hospital capacity, schools and the workforce, which has a ripple effect on the supply chain and many sectors of the economy.  Despite the many potential benefits offered by influenza vaccination, we are seeing a concerning trend of low influenza immunization rates compared to previous seasons, creating a public health concern and a risk to the capacity of health systems. Influenza continues to cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. Even more people could be protected from influenza if more people got vaccinated. According to the CDC, Influenza vaccination is a critical tool to help protect against influenza by preventing disease and lessening the severity of disease, especially in vulnerable populations like young children and people ages 65 years and older."

Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, Dr.P.H., Director of the UCI Program in Public Health and Founding Dean of the future UCI School of Population and Public Health says, "Flu trends are constantly changing and yes there have always been 'bad or worse' flu seasons and better ones. This year the epidemiologists who review the nature of the upcoming flu viruses have talked about the upcoming flu season as being a 'bad' season.  There are two reasons for this – one is that the upcoming flu strain looks to be one that will be associated with more severe symptoms. Second, I believe many countries will face a bad flu season as we all have had limited exposure in the last few years to flu and so it's expected that flu may be worse because of lower levels of circulating antibodies. Getting a flu vaccine NOW is the way to prepare for the flu season. In the United States, there has been a drop in flu vaccinations over the past two flu seasons especially among higher risk groups, including children and pregnant people. Often flu activity first increases in children and then spreads to older age groups."



with closed eyes drinking clean mineral water close up, young woman holding glass

Janet O'Mahony, M.D. a Primary Care Doctor with Mercy Personal Physicians Downtown in Baltimore, Maryland emphasizes, "Make sure if you have a respiratory illness that you HYDRATE.  Many hospitalizations occur because people get dehydrated since they are not eating or getting out of bed.  Keep water bottles or Gatorade next to the bed so you can keep hydrated.  Some hospitalizations occur because the FLU messes up previously controlled illnesses like Diabetes.  A sick person can run high sugars.  A person who is not eating much might be afraid to take their insulin.  Monitoring blood sugar with finger sticks can help keep someone out of the hospital due to really high or really low sugars. The respiratory part of the illness is generally the most serious.  Flu can cause asthma or COPD to act up and require hospitalization for severe wheezing. Flu can also cause pneumonia which can cause shortness of breath."

According to Emily Simpson, M.D., a Mercy Health infectious diseases physician, hydration is an important part of dealing with the flu if you get it. "Dehydration increases susceptibility of infection and complicates infection if you get it," she says in an article titled The Flu and Fluids: How Hydration Helps.

How to get hydrated:

  • First and foremost, drink water. You can even add in some lemon juice for a dose of vitamin C.
  • Try drinks with electrolytes too. They can help replace the minerals and liquids you've lost while sick.
  • Consume warm broths. Clear liquid broth has vitamins and electrolytes that help rehydrate.
  • Stay away from drinks high in sugar and caffeine as well as alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid coffee as well. Try decaf teas with chamomile, ginger, mint, or licorice root. Each has various properties that can help sooth you and fight off illness."


Get Vaccinated

Woman in medical protective mask getting injection in arm vaccination.

Dr. Doggett says, "According to the CDC , annual vaccination against seasonal influenza for all people six months of age and older is the best preventive measure against influenza. Annual vaccination continues to be an important public health tool helping to protect against influenza and minimize the burden of the serious outcomes of influenza on the healthcare system. This season, we continue to see a concerning trend of low influenza immunization rates compared to previous seasons, creating a public health concern and a risk to the capacity of health systems. It is vital that people continue to get vaccinated in order to prevent potentially devastating consequences of influenza and preserve health system capacity."

Dr. O'Mahony adds, "Please get a flu shot to prevent getting and spreading flu.  Get the updated Bivalent Covid Booster and get it now. Flu is highly active now in many parts of the country AND there are other respiratory viruses circulating including RSV which is "just a cold" in grown-ups but can be much more serious in babies.  And COVID has not gone away and is still circulating. All this activity has led to shortages of ER space and hospital beds in some areas. COVID has been the most serious in the elderly, those with diabetes, kidney failure and the obese. Pregnant people also suffer more severe disease. Flu is bad in the over 65 age group and the under 5 age group. It is particularly bad in asthma and COPD. Pregnant people also suffer more complications. RSV is most serious for babies under 1 year old. So if you don't want to protect yourself from these illnesses, get vaccinated and avoid getting sick to protect your loved ones."


Immune Support

Jennifer Plescia, DNP, APN, a board certified Family and Emergency Room Nurse Practitioner tells us, "The best way to avoid the flu is with proper hand washing and supporting your immune system. It is important to maintain intake of immune supporting vitamins such as Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin D, and even Glutathione. I have seen the true benefits of this form of medicine and how well it lessens the severity and duration of symptoms for those who are acutely ill and even helps with ailments such as post-COVID long hauler syndrome.

 As a business owner and mother of 2 children, I can attest to these benefits from personal experience as my children are both in daycare, constantly sick, and I have yet to be ill due to my regimen of IV therapy. What most people do not know is that while oral vitamins are great, these vitamins must bypass the digestive tract and only yield 20-40% bioavailability. When vitamins are given IV, they are 100% absorbed and allow for a stronger immune support as it essentially 'fills the tank'. The common concern we often hear of is how much is too much? Well- the best part of IV vitamin therapy, is that these vitamins are water soluble and once the tank is full, the remainder spills over and is excreted in the urine." 


Use COVID Safety Guidelines

Mature old medical healthcare professional doctor wearing white coat, stethoscope, glasses and face mask standing in hospita.l looking at camera

Dr. O'Mahony explains it's important to accurately identify if you have COVID or the flu and says, "COVID has not gone away and is still circulating. Keep COVID tests on hand to test for COVID if you get ANY respiratory illness.  COVID symptoms can be variable and you cannot assume you have "just a cold" or the flu without ruling out COVID first.

COVID symptoms are very similar to flu so if your COVID test is negative, you should retest in 24 or 48 hours. There is an effective antiviral medication for COVID so call your doctor to see if you need to be on the medication based on your health risks."

To help avoid catching a virus, Dr. O'Mahony reminds us, "The same things that helped prevent the spread of COVID work for other respiratory viruses including wearing masks when indoors especially in crowds or large gatherings, social distancing, and hand washing." Dr. Boden-Albala adds, "Behaviors that can help mitigate exposure are to wash your hands often, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, clean and disinfect surfaces, avoid close contact with sick people, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home when you're sick." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather