Flu season is heating up: what you need to know

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The flu showed up a little early this year at American Family Care in Chamblee, Georgia.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, family nurse practitioner Karen Rose says her urgent care clinic started seeing a jump people coming in feeling feverish and miserable.

"So, we're seeing patients coming in at the beginning of the illness, complaining of high fever, body aches, cough, and exhaustion," Rose says. "It usually happens quickly. They feel fine the night before and they wake up very sick."

This is coming off what could be the worst flu season in the U.S. in 40 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 80,000 Americans died of flu or flu-complications in the 2017-2018 flu season, and hundreds of thousands more ended up in the hospital.

The CDC says 185 children died from complications of the flu.

The Atlanta-based agency says 60% of those children were not vaccinated against the flu.

American Family Care still has plenty of flu vaccine.

But, Rose says, most of the patients she's treated for flu-like symptoms have told her they skipped the shot this year.

"I have family members who want to get the flu shot becasue their family member has the flu, and they brought them in," she says. "It's probably not going to help at that point."

But, if you haven't gotten a flu shot, Rose says, it's not too late.

She says it's your best form of protection, in what could be a long, and bumpy ride.

"With influenza, you'll see one strain at the beginning of the flu season and then another start about now," Rose says. "And, it will run through May. So the flu season is pretty long."

So, be germ-smart.

Wash your hands often.

Avoid touching your face and mouth.

Stay away from anyone who seems ill.

And if you do catch the flu, try to get to the doctor quickly.

There are antiviral medications that can help, but they're most effective if they're started within the first 48 hours.