On any given day last month, an average of 4% of Americans said they were sick with the flu and 11.6% said they had a cold. That's the highest these figures have ever been since Gallup first starting keeping track back in 2008.

Typically, reports of the flu are highest in January or February. So if things continue apace, the 2013-2014 flu season could end up being the worst in Gallup's records. Or, the flu season peaked early this season, which is what happened in 2009-10 when it peaked in October during the H1N1 outbreak.

According to the recent Gallup poll, the December 2014 flu reports were the highest in December since 2008. The highest month ever recorded was in January 2013 when rates averaged 4.7%. The previous month's cold reports averaged 11.6%, which is the highest month since Gallup started keeping track; prior to that, the highest was 10.8% in January 2013.

Gallup says that lower-income Americans are more likely to have the cold or flu, and that three times as many Americans report having a cold than the flu.

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Gallup adds that:

It is possible that Gallup's measures of daily cold and flu underestimate the true infection rate, because those who were sick the day before may be less likely to respond to a phone survey than those who were not sick. Additionally, it may be difficult for people to accurately self-diagnose the medical distinction between the flu and a cold, given the similarity in the symptoms of both conditions. Still, year-over-year comparisons provide useful information about the relative prevalence of flu and colds in the U.S. population.

So what's different this year? Part of the problem is that this season's flu shot is less effective than usual owing to a mutation. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get it; the flu shot lowers the severity of the illness. In addition, be sure to wash your hands frequently and stay home when you're feeling sick.

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[ Source and image: Gallup ]

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