- US flu season is off to an early start.
- Thermometers across the country are spiking temperatures higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Children’s ER doctors also say the majority of their cases right now are viral illnesses.
Cold and flu season is kicking off early this year. Doctors and parents across the US are noting a spike in pediatric fevers — signaling flu, RSV, and other common winter illnesses are already spreading.
“What we’re seeing most is respiratory viral illnesses,” Dr. Melanie Kitagawa, who directs the pediatric intensive care unit at Texas Children’s Hospital, told Insider.
But it’s not just severe, hospitalized cases that are up. Smart thermometer company Kinsa aggregates data from 2.5 million thermometers in households across the country. They’re seeing lots of kids’ temperatures spiking right now — well ahead of a more typical December/January viral illness wave.
Thermometer readings are soaring past 100 degrees
Kinsa has about 1.5 million pediatric users aged 0 to 12 across the US. Right now, roughly 3% of them are recording “influenza-like illnesses,” meaning the child has a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, plus a cough or sore throat. This is a much higher percentage of illnesses than what Kinsa recorded at this time of year in 2021, 2020, or 2019:
Texas and DC are hotspots for flu
In southern states like Texas, where Kitagawa works, the October virus-spreading trend is even more pronounced. The chart below tracks the proportion of ILI (influenza-like illnesses) that Kinsa thermometers are recording across 17 southern US states, including Delaware, DC, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.
You can see the pediatric curve here is even steeper than the graph for the entire US:
Federal flu surveillance done in hospitals and outpatient clinics around the country mirrors Kinsa’s tracking, too. The most recent tally of influenza-like illnesses across the US includes “high” levels of ILI fevers in Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and New York.
ILI is also “very high” in Washington, DC right now. In nearby Virginia, Stafford High School cancelled all extracurricular activities last weekend after nearly half the school’s students and staff called out sick, the Hill reported.
All this fever, cough, and sore throat data can’t really differentiate between who has the flu, who has RSV, and who might have COVID-19, or some other viral illness that causes the same feverish symptoms. But it is a good indication that all those viruses are spreading quickly from person to person right now.
If you’re not sick yet, “do the preventative things that you can do, like get the flu vaccine,” Kitagawa said.
Rest, hydration, and Tamiflu can help
If you or your child is already sick, rest and hydration is key. Viral illnesses including flu, RSV, and COVID cannot be cured by antibiotics.
Instead, while the body fights the virus, symptoms can be eased with over-the-counter medicine including fever reducers, like children’s acetaminophen or children’s ibuprofen. A damp washcloth over the forehead or tepid bath can also feel good for a fever, while saltwater gargling may ease a sore throat. Staying home from school or work will also help prevent your child from spreading their flu to others.
Finally, the antiviral drug Tamiflu works to attack the flu virus and relieve symptoms faster than your body would naturally. The medicine requires a prescription, and needs to be taken within 48 hours after symptoms start. Tamiflu can also be taken as a prophylactic by family members of sick patients, which means it may help prevent them from getting ill.