Officials at Inova Fairfax Hospital are reporting a 20 percent increase in volume due to the flu. Doctors say it has hit early compared to the past five or six years, and they don't know if we have even reached the peak yet.
The biggest concern with influenza is it can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications. The elderly and children are most at risk. If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, see a doctor or head to the hospital right away.
As far as treatment, medical experts say the sooner the better. The medications available to help ease the symptoms are most effective when started within the first day or so of a patient falling ill.
The best way to avoid catching the virus is frequent hand washing, and of course, the flu shot. There is still time and doctors say there is no good reason for the average, healthy patient to avoid getting the vaccine.
"The major side effect that people might get from the flu vaccine is a day of feeling aches, so really we are not seeing side effects," says Dr. Glenn Druckenbrod, Director of Emergency Medicine at Inova Fairfax. "Many institutions are mandating now that their employees get vaccinated and we're not having issues with side effects associated with that."
He says it is not only the best way to protect yourself, but the more people who get vaccinated, the less likely the virus is to continue to spread through the community.
Doctors say the vaccine should fully protect against the "A-strain" of the virus, but when it comes to other strains, there is a chance it could be less effective. The good news is the shot does reduce the severity of the symptoms for those who do end up getting the flu.