Did you take home the flu as a leftover from Christmas dinner?

The flu was a holiday gift for many this year.

Influenza season is now widespread in California, including Fresno.

Doctors have been seeing more patients with fever, cough, runny noses and red eyes since holiday vacations began last week.

Flu viruses are easily shared at family gatherings, said Dr. Robert Kezirian a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Valley Children’s Hospital. “Who doesn’t want to kiss the baby? And everyone wants to hold the baby. And boom  three days later, you get the flu.”

A spike in flu cases during the holidays is not unusual. This year’s flu arrival is “eerily similar” to last year, said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. The region includes Fresno.

“Last year was a very bad flu season for us, and it seemed to accelerate over the holidays,” Bergen said. “And our flu numbers are very much mirroring that pattern.”

Patients in the central San Joaquin Valley have tested positive for influenza A and B. Influenza A is the more common strain, but the Valley is seeing more of influenza B than in other regions of the country, Bergen said.

Both influenza A and B cause similar symptoms and are treated the same.

The flu vaccine includes protection for both viral strains. However, this year’s vaccine has not proven to be extremely effective. Reports from Australia, where flu season has ended, found the protection to be as low as 10 percent.

But it’s too soon so know how effective the vaccine will be in the United States, Bergen said. “The flu vaccine has definitely gotten not the best publicity, and deservedly so,” he said. “But some protection is better than no protection.”

Flu season often does not peak until January and Kezirian said it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The vaccine also may reduce the severity of symptoms should you get the flu, he said.

People who have fever, cough and body aches should call a doctor. Anti-viral medication, if taken within two days of the start of flu symptoms, can speed recovery.

“It is not a cure,” Bergen said. “When someone has influenza, it will reduce, in most cases, the duration of the symptoms by a day or two.”

During flu season, Fresno County health officials remind people to get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables and be physically active each day.

An easy tip to avoid getting or spreading the flu is frequent hand washing and covering all coughs and sneezes.

And an important reminder: Stay home if you are sick.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter