Between the coughs, sneezes and nose blowing going on at home, in schools and workplaces around East Texas it can sound like a somewhat comical symphony of sickness.
But these signs of the illnesses going around are just reminders that we’re entering peak flu season and the time when cases of cold, strep and flu-like viruses abound.
This year’s flu season is expected to be long and severe.
“We’re all just kind of gearing up and anticipating that it’s going to be a long flu season,” Brandi Love, a family nurse practitioner and primary care provider at East Texas Medical Center in Bullard.
Ms. Love, who cited The New England Journal of Medicine for her flu season prognosis, said that while she thinks she is seeing about the same amount of patients this year as last year, she is expecting that to tick up as flu season gets further underway.
Tyler ISD is not seeing higher than usual absences at this point in the flu and cold seasons.
The district had higher than usual attendance on Tuesday, with more than 95 percent of its students at school compared to 92-93 percent on average, district spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said. Ninety-six percent of teachers were in attendance.
Health care professionals typically recommend people get immunized for the flu starting in October, though they can do so as late as December. It takes about two weeks after the vaccine to build antibodies.
Though the flu shot is not perfect, it is the best weapon available to prevent the virus, and typicallyensuresfewer complications and a less severe case even if a person does still get the flu, Ms. Love said.
Some people though are experiencing flu-like symptoms that are not actually the flu virus, Ms. Love said.
These are called rhinoviruses and they are the most common cause of the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
These viruses can cause low-grade fevers, sore throats, runny noses, coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, according to the CDC.
In contrast, the flu typically will involve a fever of 101 degrees or more and severe muscle aches, in addition to the other symptoms.
The average case of the flu will last about seven days, while most colds and other viruses will run four to seven days. The sickness typically will peak around the second or third day.
Gerald “Gerry” Brown, a physician assistant who has treated patients at UT Health Northeast for more than a decade, said he was starting to see more patients coming in with upper respiratory type infections and viruses, some of them flu positive.
Symptoms included runny noses, aches and pains, sneezing and sore throats.
Brown said with the flu the onset is more sudden and patients are going to have a high fever, dry cough that could be severe and a prominent headache and body aches.
With a cold, the onset is more gradual and patients will have a hacking type of cough, a slight headache, mild muscle aches and possibly a low-grade fever.
Brown said many people could be getting sick because of the recent Thanksgiving holiday when many people gathered together with family.
With more people in a room, if someone was sick and coughed without covering their mouth, that flu or cold could have spread to everyone else.
In addition, he said, shopping carts can spread germs easily as well. He advised people to use the sanitizing wipes available in many stores.
He also encouraged people to wash their hands, use hand sanitizers, cover their mouths when they cough and to get a flu shot.
“It’s not a perfect immunization, but has been shown in the past to decrease incidents of flu” or if a person does get it, to lessen the symptoms, Brown said.
Ms. Love said people experiencing mild cold symptoms could treat them with over the counter medications or follow-up with their usual doctor.
She said pharmacists often can answer questions about specific over-the-counter medications to use with certain conditions such as high blood pressure.
However, she said, anyone who experiences shortness of breath, a high fever or difficult-to-control symptoms should visit a doctor.
A CLOSER LOOK
Preventing the Flu
- Take time to get a flu vaccine.
- Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
- Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
Everyday Preventive Actions include:
1. Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
4. Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention