Cold and flu season by the numbers

Feb 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. ET

You may think you know all there is to know about cold and flu season, but we're willing to bet these numbers will surprise you!

Cold and flu season by the numbers infographic |

That time of year

Believe it or not, colds and flu are not the same thing. Colds come with runny and stuffy noses, a headache and sometimes a cough. They can linger for a bit, then before you know it, you're feeling better. The flu can produce the same types of symptoms at first, but then you can develop chills, swollen glands, fever, fatigue and body aches (which may require a trip to your doctor's office). No one wants to deal with either one.

It's pretty likely you'll get a cold and maybe even the flu at some point during the season. But really, can you avoid it? There's no absolute guarantee, but what you can do is take a few precautions to keep colds and flu at bay this year.

A plan for flu preparedness

The last flu season was a doozy; if you got hit with it, you can attest to that. It came earlier in the season than expected, and resulted in the deaths of more than 110 children in the U.S. According to health experts at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, the flu vaccine remains the best option to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. The flu season can start as early as the end of September and usually runs for about 12 to 15 weeks.

Infectious disease specialists already have identified the flu viruses that are the most likely to cause illness this season, and vaccines have been formulated. Experts believe about 90 percent of the viruses found during surveillance are well-matched to the current vaccines.

"We don't yet know how severe this year's flu season will be, but we're preparing now to try and confront it head on,” says Dr. Brian Currie, infectious disease specialist, and vice president and medical director for research at Montefiore Medical Center. "We continue to strongly encourage everyone to get their flu shot early in the season — September is best.”

A plan for prevention

There are many things you can do to help stay healthy this season; many are common-sense strategies, but we all could use a reminder! Consider these simple steps to help stay well this year:

  • Wash your hands often, especially before you eat.
  • Get immunized.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow.
  • Stay away from others who are sick (and stay home when you're sick).
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Stay on a regular exercise routine to help keep your immune system strong.
  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven to eight hours).
  • Eat healthy foods such as colorful fruits and veggies, which can help boost your immune system.
  • Clean your surfaces (your desk, doorknobs, etc.), with antiseptic wipes or disinfectant at least once a day.
  • Don't smoke. It increases your risk of infection.

Do your best to stay well this season!

More cold- and flu-fighting tips

How to treat tummy troubles
How the flu can hurt your heart health
Eat right to avoid the cold and flu