Brace yourself. The flu has arrived in Washington and is now at an epidemic level, according to Harvard University and the University of Washington. The emergency room at Peacehealth St. Joseph Medical Center has nearly reached its capacity of 150 people with influenza cases, according to the Bellingham Herald. So far, there have been 110 confirmed cases of influenza in Whatcom County since Dec. 31, according to the Whatcom County Health Department. The cases are currently increasing. This has been a typical year at Western so far, with up to 10 students diagnosed daily, said Dr. Emily Gibson, director of the Student Health Center. Gibson has noticed one thing that is different from previous flu seasons. “People do seem sicker this year, having to stay out of class longer and more pneumonia cases.” Gibson said. While there have been no confirmed deaths in Whatcom County, the virus killed 24 people since the official flu season began on Dec. 21, according to Washington State Influenza Data. These deaths occurred in people older than 50 and had underlying health conditions, which are people typically at high risk for hospitalization during the flu, according to state data. Symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes nausea tend to hit these people the hardest. Gibson said the best way to combat getting the flu is to be careful around people who already have the flu. “Avoid being around sick, coughing people. Wash your hands before touching food or touching any mucus membranes on your face,” Gibson said. Getting adequate sleep, avoiding smoking, alcohol, recreational substances and sharing with other people are more ways to combat the flu, Gibson said. Gibson advises students to follow the protocols set by the Student Health Center when they start to experience symptoms. “Don’t go to class if ill, cover your cough [and] wash your hands before touching anything others touch,” Gibson said. “Call our consulting nurse to determine if you need to be seen or can stay put and do self care.” The health center prefers to talk to students on the phone early to determine if they have risk factors for complications from the flu like asthma, diabetes, chronic diseases or medications that suppress the immune system, Gibson said. “Antiviral treatment like Tamiflu has to be started within 48 hours of onset of symptoms to be effective, so waiting is not a good idea,” Gibson said. More information about the flu can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/.