Call in sick

2022 flu season: 4 charts visualize how fast the virus is spreading

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

If it seems like everyone is getting sick right now, it’s not just in your head.

Covid is still circulating, but the U.S. is also seeing a resurgence of respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu.

Both are spreading at rates not seen since before the pandemic.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

In some regions, this unseasonably high rise in respiratory illness is straining hospitals and making it harder to find cold medicine at pharmacies.

Data reported by the CDC shows that these common seasonal viruses are spreading way earlier than normal, and cases are rising fast.

Issarawat Tattong/Moment/Getty Images

The CDC maps out cases of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) to visualize how quickly things are spreading.

This category lumps together patients who visit the doctor for common respiratory symptoms: a fever, cough, or sore throat.

This year, ILI activity was high (orange to red) or very high (dark red to purple) in almost the entire U.S. by the end of November.

Source: CDC

Comparatively, ILI activity at the end of 2018 was minimal or low in October and November. Some states reached high levels at the end of December.

Source: CDC

Shutterstock

ILI activity doesn’t tell us how many of those cases are actually the flu, but it’s a good indicator that the virus is spreading since it tends to flare up in the winter.

Other data, such as positive flu tests from hospitals, can help confirm how much flu is going around:

Shutterstock

The rate of flu-related hospitalizations for 2022 (in red) is much higher at this point in the year than in previous seasons dating back to 2015.

Source: CDC

Since October 2, over 150,000 of 1.05 million total flu tests came back positive. But this is only a fraction of flu cases since many people are never tested.

Source: CDC

Comparatively, the CDC reported 171,039 positive tests out of a total of 1.15 million for the entire 2018-2019 flu season (September through May).

Flu cases are still rising, and the number of vaccinations for this year’s season has been lower than in the past few years.

Shutterstock

The number of flu shots distributed weekly is far lower this year (bottom purple line) than during the 2020-2021 season (top blue line).

Source: CDC

Javier Zayas Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Though flu shots vary in efficacy each season, this year’s vaccine is expected to be well-matched to the variants currently circulating. That means it’s better late than never to get your shot if you haven’t already.