Great Plains Health is seeing an increase in the numbers of patients seeking treatment for influenza-like-illness.

Of the patients hospitalized, the age groups have been primarily  younger than age 4 and older than age 65, said  Infection Prevention Coordinator Jenny Lantis.

Flu is spread to others within 6 feet by droplets that pass through the air when people who have it cough, sneeze or talk. Those who have it can be contagious beginning 1 day before they see symptoms, and up to 5-7 days after symptoms start.

Nebraska is one of 16 states that are reporting a high activity level of influenza, Lantis said.

For the week ending Jan. 26, the number of states in the U.S. that are reporting widespread flu activity increased from 36 to 45, according to the CDC’s Weekly FluView report.

Nebraska is hit primarily by the H3N2 strain, which is the same strain that dominated the nation last year and tends to be more severe than other strains, Lantis said.

Nebraska is No. 1 in flu activity, according to the Walgreens Flu Index, which is compiled based on the drugstore chain’s weekly retail prescription data for antiviral drugs.  This could just mean that Nebraska residents are better at taking their medications, or that this year’s strain is more severe so more people are seeking treatment.

The best way to prevent the flu is to vaccinate and it isn’t too late.

Health officials recommend that if you have already been diagnosed with the flu, it is still best to get vaccinated to cover other strains.

Other preventative measures include: avoid sick contacts, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, cover your cough.

If you do have symptoms of influenza, antivirals are only effective if given within 48 hours of the time your symptoms start, she said.