BOISE -- Chances are you or one your neighbors has already had the flu this season. If you haven't got the flu, experts say you're not in the clear just yet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday influenza has hit epidemic levels across the nation, and is considered being widespread in 47 states.
Idaho is considered one of the 47 states where the flu is widespread, but is not seeing epidemic levels, at least not yet.
Flu season arrived early this year and, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, is shaping up to be worse than years past. Dr. Kenny Bramwell with St. Luke's agrees.
"I expect it to continue to get worse for the next few weeks or maybe even the next month or two, but I don't think we've peaked yet," said Dr. Bramwell, who is the chair of the St. Luke’s Downtown Emergency Department.
If you look at hospital visits for three St. Luke's hospitals, the latest numbers show, just a six percent increase from 2011 to 2012. That's from the beginning of the season, October to the latest numbers released in the end of December.
But if you look at just the last three weeks recorded - the difference is stark. St. Luke's saw more than twice as many visitors in 2012 compared to 2011.
Weeks beginning Dec. 9th through Dec. 23rd, 2012 - 349 total visits
Weeks beginning Dec. 11th through Dec. 25th, 2011 - 172 total visits
"The flu is miserable,” said Bramwell. "If you truly have influenza, it's unpleasant. You have body aches, you have high fevers, you feel awful. Sometimes you have vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes staying hydrated becomes a problem and those are really the times that we want people to seek medical care, is if they're having ongoing problems staying hydrated or dealing with the aches and pains.”
To avoid getting sick, two seemingly simple things can be your best defense.
"Avoid ill contacts when you can, so if someone is sick, sometimes the best thing is to not go visit them at their home," said Bramwell.
That means powering through the sickness at work might not be the best idea.
"If you're ill, avoid contact, stay home, get better and then go back out," said Bramwell. "The other thing is washing hands, critically important, it's the best way from preventing germs from spreading.”
For those of us who've had the flu, the first few days can be the worst. If you experience five days of severe flu-like symptoms, Dr. Bramwell says at that point you should see a doctor.
Here’s a list of some of the most severe symptoms that signal you should see a doctor:
• Fever above 100° F
• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish or gray skin color
• Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach area
• Sudden dizziness
• Dehydration, not urinating enough or no tears when crying
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Being very sleepy or confused, or not waking up or interacting
• Being so irritable that nothing makes the child feel better
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and more severe cough
Another good preventative measure is to get a flu shot. This flu season, the vaccine has been over 60 percent effective. If you haven’t got a shot yet, there’s still time.
The Malheur County Health Department will host a free flu clinic on Saturday for children and adults who don't have insurance. Click here for more information.