It’s cold and flu season. But it’s just the flu — no biggie, right? Some friends and family have been talking about their co-workers and classmates coming down with a harsh case of the flu. But it happens, though — it is the middle of the winter, right?

However, soon enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started reporting climbing death rates, with at least 53 children dead as of Feb. 2. Hospitals and urgent care centers have become flooded, operating at full capacity and forcing administration to beg their doctors to work overtime. Medical centers have begun canceling elective surgeries with the goal of freeing up as many beds as possible for the sick.

Alabama has declared a state of emergency. Over in California, doctors are forced to set up “surge tents” outside to treat the exponentially growing number of flu patients. Some hospitals in the Golden State are even restricting influenza patients from entering in an attempt to thwart contagion.

Pennsylvania hospitals are treating patients in tents in their parking lots. The CDC issued a statement in its weekly report that this flu virus, H3N2, could be deadliest to children. Infection and death rates are still rising, and the United States and the rest of the world are experiencing an influenza epidemic. But it’s just the flu, right?

Unfortunately, none of that was from an apocalyptic movie or a new Netflix original. The above situation is the reality of our current influenza epidemic. While it is important not to spread fear and panic, it is also imperative to be realistic and plan accordingly. A college campus is a unique place; it houses thousands of residents in constant close quarters, making it an influenza breeding ground. Binghamton University is no exception, with infection rates accumulating every day.

Getting sick in the throes of the semester, when most students are preparing for their first round of exams, is a student’s worst nightmare. Officials report that most patients of H3N2 are sick for a few days, but could stretch as long as just under two weeks. An illness like that could potentially derail a student’s semester.

But there are many ways to prevent the infection and spread of influenza. The primary and most effective route of prevention is the flu vaccine. All vaccines this season have been updated to include protection against influenza A, a component of H3N2. Although the vaccine will be most effective if administered prior to the outbreak of the flu, it can still be beneficial well into the flu season.

Furthermore, there are everyday actions that can be taken to prevent the flu. Avoiding contact with infected persons when possible reduces chance of exposure and subsequent infection. Likewise, staying home when already infected can prohibit the circulation of the disease. Proper hygiene, including frequent hand-washing, can also protect against the spread of germs.

There is also the option of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu to expedite the process of eradicating the disease. However, it is best to avoid doctor’s offices and hospitals while sick to avoid spreading the flu and picking up other diseases while the immune system is already compromised. Additionally, this flu season can possibly last until May, so taking the proper precautions is imperative.

Influenza was once known as a killer virus, but thanks to modern medicine, the threat it poses has been significantly reduced. However, a threat is still there. Protect yourself and your loved ones this season by taking proper precautions and not brushing it off as “just the flu.”

Morgan Manganello is a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience.