The flu typically peaks in February, but can start as early as October or pop up as late as May.
The CDC tracks the spread of the flu across the country every year. Here is what the flu was doing during the week ending November 14, 2014.
Here is what it looked like at the very end of December 2013, for some comparison:
The CDC estimates that between 5 and 20% of the population gets sick with the flu every flu season, nearly 200,000 people are hospitalized for it, and thousands (often tens of thousands) die.
The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself before you catch it.
1. Get this year's flu vaccine.
3. There are different ways to get vaccinated — a shot, and a nasal spray. See the CDC's list of who should and should not get the nasal spray here.
4. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks before it works. If you get vaccinated in the middle of a flu outbreak, it's possible that you'll contract the flu before your body can develop antibodies to the virus, meaning you could get sick in spite of getting the vaccine.
Many thanks to Beatrice the Biologist for giving BuzzFeed Life permission to use her flu vaccine comic!
2. Wash your hands repeatedly throughout the day.
3. Lather for 20 seconds. Literally count to 20 if you need to.
4. If you use hand sanitizer, do it correctly.
5. Quit touching your face.
6. Eat your fruits and veggies.
7. Try to limit your exposure to sick people.
8. Stop smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.
9. Get plenty of sleep.
10. Get regular moderate exercise.
Research shows that people who regularly work out with moderate intensity have stronger immune systems than people who are sedentary (as in sitting on their butts all day).
Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise, according to the CDC and the American College of Sports Medicine:
-Walking at a brisk pace (from 3 to 4.5 miles per hour)
-Biking 5 to 9 miles per hour without many hills
-Using the stair-climber at the gym at a light to moderate pace
-Weight training using free weights (that doesn't include circuit weight training, which is SUPER intense)
-Walking, running, or climbing with children
-Washing your car
11. Feeling sick? Figure out if you have the flu, or if it's just a cold.
12. If you've got the flu, stay home from work and away from people.
13. Know what meds can help you (and realize that most probably can't).
14. Know when you need to seek medical care.
Signs you should go to the doctor ASAP: If you're having trouble breathing, or if your fever is high and sustained (rather than fluctuating between high and low), according to Fuhrman. And anyone considered high-risk (over 65, under 5, pregnant women, or people with chronic conditions) should be in touch with their doctors if they have any concerns.