If it seems like everyone on your Instagram and Facebook feed — from your aunt in Illinois to your BFF in California — is complaining about having the flu right now, it's not a coincidence. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu activity "increased sharply" all across the country last week.
Technically, "flu season" lasts from October to May, and peaks in February. Last week in particular, the CDC found that the flu was widespread in 36 states across the country, and 21 states experienced "high activity," meaning more people went to the hospital for flu-like illnesses than average.
Experts have a few theories as to why flu is so hot right now. For starters, the flu vaccine that's administered each year is based on what researchers believe will be the most common strains of the virus that year. If they're incorrect about that year's viruses, then more people may end up with the flu.
However, the early peak may also have to do with the particularly cold weather this December, Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center told USA Today. Indeed, there's some evidence that the flu spreads more easily when it's cold and there's less humidity in the air. "But we've had cold Decembers before and not had flu," Radtke told USA Today. And interestingly, the flu has spread all across the country, not just in the colder areas.
So, which states got slammed with the flu? According to the CDC, the 21 states with "high flu activity" include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. The states with "minimal flu activity" include Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
It's tough to say exactly how accurate this data is, because not everyone who experiences the flu will head to the hospital to be treated. And in some states, like Washington, D.C. and Connecticut, they couldn't collect enough data to tally the number of people with the flu. The CDC has an interactive map on their website that allows you to see how the virus spreads and worsens throughout the season. Below is a snapshot of where last week's activity level landed:
The bad news: We have several months to go before flu season and cold weather actually ends. In the meantime, stock up on soup and get on Facebook to whine about your own symptoms. It may not cure your virus, but it sure feels cathartic.