EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Flu season hit the country early this year and is now running rampant in the area, according to Geisinger.

The flu is the key reason area hospitals are filled up almost daily, while some local pharmacies struggle to keep over-the-counter medicines in stock.

“The flu has risen and risen rapidly and kids that getting it are very ill,” stated Geisinger Pediatrician Dr. Stacey Cummings, M.D.

Cummings, the Vice Chair of Outpatient Pediatric Services at Geisinger, says while RSV cases have decreased, it’s the flu that’s keeping area ICU hospital beds occupied.

The most common symptoms of influenza are fever, body aches, congestion, headache, and fatigue, and it usually lasts 5 to 10 days. But when should you see a doctor?

“Kids that seem like they perk up and then they suddenly get worse again, those are the kids we want to see because sometimes flu is an opportunistic place that bacterial infections will jump on, so ear infections and pneumonia are secondary causes after the flu,” explained Dr. Cummings.

When it comes to fever, a high temperature doesn’t necessarily mean a cause for alarm.

“To me, it doesn’t matter what the fever is, it’s what is that child doing. Are they so cranky that they won’t calm down? Are they so sleepy that they’re not as active and interactive? Those are the patients we really need to see no matter what the temperature is,” said Cummings.

Dr. Cummings recommends treating flu symptoms with over-the-counter medicines, but they are not always readily available these days. Some local pharmacies are struggling to keep shelves stocked consistently.

Dr. Cummings says demand is so high for these non-prescription products that pharmacies can’t keep up. That’s why it’s important to look for alternatives.

“If you have an older child who can take pills they can take adult formulations depending on their weight. There are chewable that are available, there are melt away that are available, there are rectal suppositories of acetaminophen or Tylenol that are available, so there are other routes that can give your child relief,” described Dr. Cummings.

“Most cold and cough medicines have been shown to not be effective in children, so honey beat out every cold and cough medicine out there. It can be given to children one year old and up. It is very soothing for cough, give it as often as needed,” added Cummings.

What’s also needed to combat the flu this season are flu and covid vaccines, plus avoiding anyone who is sick, according to Dr. Cummings.

With various viruses circulating right now, infections may continue to rise as more people gather indoors for the holidays.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nationwide, about 78,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu, and at least 4,500 have died since the start of the flu season in October.