The weather is getting chillier, and people everywhere are packing into trains and planes to see loved ones. You know what that means: It's flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate influenza affects up to 20 percent of Americans each year, and scientists think they've pinpointed when the flu will be at its worst this season.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory created a mathematical model using historical data, numbers from this season, and knowledge of how flu spreads through a population. They found that it's pretty unlikely (less than 5 percent chance) that the flu will peak before 2016. According to their nationwide model, there's a 55 percent chance it will peak in February and a 33 percent chance it will be the worst in March. But there's some good news that comes with all this: There's a 77 percent chance we'll have a mild flu season this year overall.
"There's no crystal ball when it comes to predicting disease outbreaks," project leader Sara Del Valle, PhD, said in a statement. "Holiday travel and the rate at which people get flu shots can change the forecast, so we'll continue to update the model as new information becomes available."
According to the CDC, flu activity is still low across the country; usually, influenza peaks in February and can last until May. Fewer than half of Americans say they have received a flu shot this season, which leaves them vulnerable to suffering the symptoms and spreading them to more vulnerable people, like babies and the elderly. The CDC urges everyone to get a flu shot now, because it takes about two weeks for your body to be fully protected from influenza. Although last year's flu vaccine wasn't as effective as planned, officials insist that this year's batch has been updated to better match this year's viruses.