East Texas hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed with flu patients with and other respiratory infections, underscoring the importance of getting vaccinated and also being vigilant about prevention.
Public health and medical providers’ message has been the same every year: get a flu shot.
“Getting the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu,” said Stephanie Taylor, director of community outreach and assistance at Northeast Texas Public Health District (NET Health).
Health officials said people worry that the vaccine causes illness, but they assert that is not the case. They said it takes a few days to build up immunity to the virus, so the sooner people receive it, the better.
“The flu shot does take two weeks to build up immunity to the flu,” Mrs. Taylor said. “You could pick up the flu during that time.”
Besides the vaccine, there are easy ways to keep flu at bay, such as washing hands with warm soapy water and disinfecting surfaces.
When a person has the flu, they can stem the spread by staying at home. Some people may take fever-reducing medicine and falsely believe they are better when the fever is gone. However, a fever is only a symptom of disease, and the absence of it does not necessarily mean the body has recovered.
“It’s difficult to miss work, particularly if you don’t have sick time, and so a lot of times, adults with children with fever, they’ll take fever-reducing medicine but they’re still contagious,” Mrs. Taylor said.
WHY PREVENTION MATTERS
Each year, thousands of people succumb to a flu-related illness. During the last season, the flu was responsible for 381,000 hospitalizations nationwide.
Texas is among the Southern states experiencing widespread cases of the flu. Widespread activity is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as "outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in the state."
According to the latest surveillance data reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services, there have been two pediatric deaths in the state.
The flu is not a reportable disease, but some providers voluntarily report cases. The flu season began in late September, and December has been the worst month in Texas so far. During the second week in December, 113 providers reported 2,322 instances of the flu. From the beginning of the season, patients with the flu represented about 3 percent of all patients, and it rose to nearly 10 percent by the end of 2013.
And this season, H1N1 — the virulent strain that first popped up in 2009 —comprises most of the cases being reported. Also like in 2009, young and middle-aged people are being affected by it.
With the unpredictability of the flu, health officials are uncertain how harsh this season will turn out to be.
“The typical flu season peaks in January and February,” Mrs. Taylor said. “So this is pretty early. We still see cases sometimes into May.”