Flu is not just a real bad cold. It’s a nasty virus that kills tens of thousands of Americans every winter, focusing more on children and the elderly — and this winter is considered worse than average.

More than 50 children have died during this flu season. More than 7 percent of outpatient visits this season are for flu, which is surpassing recent years. Based on hospitalization rates, this season is on track to equal or surpass the 2014-15 season, in which 56,000 died, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

The flu season started in October, but CDC advises still getting flu shots. Supplies are declining, but you can check vaccinefinder.org to see where it’s available.

The bug has been widespread in 48 states but, thankfully, Oregon is now counted among states with declining activity, says CDC. The whole West Coast is seeing a decline.

The bug this season is causing a 49.1 percent per thousand hospitalization rate, about the same as the “high severity” 2014-15 season, in which 710,000 people were hospitalized.

Several flu strains are stalking the nation, but the biggest and most powerful one is our long-time foe H3N2, which started as the Hong Kong flu 50 years ago. The whole nation “lit up” with flu at once, which is unusual, says Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the CDC influenza division, in a telephone news conference Friday.

Usually, the hardest hit are seniors over 65 and children 0-4, in that order. However, baby boomers, age 55 to 64 are the second hardest hit this season, said Jernigan.

Symptoms are chest pains, shortness of breath, persistent fevers, ear pain and fatigue. To lower risk of catching it, stay hydrated, wash hands frequently, don’t touch your face or shake hands with others and, if sick, don’t go to work or school. 

For alternative remedies and supplements, the Ashland Food Cooperative reports people are buying elderberry antiviral syrup, Wellness Formula from Source Natural, zinc lozenges, homeopathic oscillum and, of course, vitamin C and oranges.

An exhaustive CDC report from Jernigan is at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/t0126-flu-update-activity.html.

We asked Ashlanders if they are anxious about the flu, are taking precautions or if they got the flu — and, if so, how it felt and did they go to a doctor.

Athena Stanley — I did come down with the flu in early October, the first time in 25 years. Within days after I got a flu shot 25 years ago, I wound up with the flu. Coincidence or cause-effect, I don't really know. However, I never had another flu injection and had been flu free for 25 years until this past fall. Another reason I don't opt for flu shots is because they seldom are effective against the current flu strain. Once a flu injection is available that covers most of the strains, I may reconsider. BTW, my brother and his wife both work at a hospital and are required to get the flu shot every year as a condition of employment and EVERY YEAR, they wind up with the flu.

Darrell Kastin — I never got the flu shot and never ever got the flu until 2012 when after surgery and some weird nerve thing called Klumpke's Paresis I came down with pneumonia, and decided, when I was better, that I should get the shot. And the pneumonia vaccine. Since then I've come down with pneumonia every year, twice in 2016, so this year I said no mas, and haven't gotten it. I hope I did right by avoiding it. Time will tell.

Tasha Schaal — I have gotten the flu really bad twice after getting the flu shot. I have not gotten the flu shot this year and have not had the flu, but did get a bronchial thing. I am very anxious about getting it. I have not been socializing as much and I am taking high doses of vitamins, and if I feel anything, I take Wellness Formula right away. Also 1 tsp. Apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. Lemon, 1 tsp. Honey in warm water in the morning to make my system alkaline, plus lots of probiotics to strengthen my immune system. I feel very vulnerable and don’t feel like I can count on the flu shot to protect me after my previous experience.

Kaylee Horsman — I haven’t gotten the flu in my entire life, until this last year. December of 2017 I got really sick and felt like my head was heavy, headaches every single day, and had lots of mucus build up. Stomach just felt queasy consistently (and I eat super healthy). I felt better and then would be active, and immediately get worse. I was sick for about 4 weeks off and on, some days outside on a hike and some days unable to get out of bed just completely drained. Didn’t feel completely healthy or energized until mid January I’d say. Don’t think I’ve ever gotten a flu shot, or if I did it was elementary school if required.

Greg Frederick — Because of my job (musician), I get flu shots. I interact with hundreds of people almost every week. Everyone likes to shake hands or give a friendly hug usually after dancing when people have been quite active. I love the handshakes and hugs but both are great ways to share colds and flu. I have noticed a considerable amount of people ( especially those that fly and have connections to California) are abstaining from a lot of cheek to cheek interaction. My fear of catching things feeds my self-professed OCD. I wash my hands every time there is an opportunity and carry hand sanitizer in the car.

—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.