What you need to know about this year's flu season

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Flu season is underway in full force, and this year, it has hit epidemic levels.

Dr. Ray Casciari with St. Joseph Hospital of Orange helped answer questions about this year's flu season.

Why is this year considered an "epidemic," and why is it hitting so hard?

The primary strain this year is influenza A (H3N2), and it's hitting particularly hard this year presumably because there's natural variation. Also, the mortality rate is much higher than influenza B or influenza C.

In addition, the vaccine is not quite as good against influenza A (H3N2).

When should you go to the emergency room as opposed to urgent care or your doctor?

If you cannot keep down fluids, have had symptoms for more than seven days, become confused and dizzy and have trouble getting out of bed, you should go to the emergency room.

Those who can navigate around the house and can control their fever with Tylenol or Ibuprofen, the best thing to do is stay home, wash your hands, keep everything around you clean, and you'll get better.

There are higher incidents of mortality for children under 5 years old and for people over the age of 65, so it is important for those affected within that age group to seek care. It is also important to note the flu can also be fatal for healthy people between those age groups.

There is word about some shortages of Tamiflu, an oral medication, in Southern California. What can you do if it's not available?

There's plenty of Tamiflu throughout the country and more should be making its way back into Southern California. If the medication is not available to you, talk to your doctor about what the indications are because not all people affected with the flu are in need of Tamiflu.

If you got a flu shot, does that protect you?

The flu shot is not 100 percent effective, but if you have the shot, you'll likely face a much milder course of the flu. Don't forget, it's never too late to get the flu shot!

Other things to know:

To prevent catching the flu, avoid crowds, don't touch your face and constantly wash your hands.

This year's dominant flu strain takes 10 to 14 days to completely recover from.

If taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, anti-virals like Tamiflu can speed up recovery by one to two days.

You can also manage your symptoms with fever reducers, cough expectorants and decongestants.

If you want to skip the waiting room, call in because it's likely your care can be managed over the phone.

RELATED: Pasadena doctor says aggressive flu may continue to peak through at least March
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This year's flu peaked early, may continue for weeks to come and doctors believe it's one of the worst seasons for the aggressive and highly contagious strain.

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