Texas Medical Association and Staff Reports
Flu season is picking up steam across Texas. Widespread influenza has reached epidemic levels in the state, killing six children so far this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Texas physicians urge people six months and older to get the flu vaccine if they haven’t already, and to take precautions to stop the spread of this deadly disease.
Palo Pinto General Hospital's Emergency Room has experienced a higher than normal number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms, according to Sue Lamb, the hospital's clinic administrator.
Lamb said the hospital saw an average of 130 patients per week coming through the ER with flu-like symptoms until the week before last, when they saw 115 patients.
“This year is much worse than last year,” said Jason Terk, MD, a Keller pediatrician and chair of the Texas Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health.
“This year the flu arrived early and sickened more people than past years,” he added. “The predominant flu type this year is called H3N2, and people seem not to have as good immunity from this type as from other flu strains.”
“Years when this strain predominates are usually bad flu seasons,” said Dr. Terk, a TMA Be Wise – Immunize advocate.
However, it’s not too late to get vaccinated and protect yourself and your loved ones from this potentially deadly disease, he said.
“The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your chances of getting sick from any one of the flu viruses that circulate every year. It also helps the people who live and work around you because getting vaccinated boosts community immunity.” (When more people are vaccinated, fewer people get sick and spread the bug to those who are not vaccinated.)
Physicians say the flu shot is just as effective whether you got it in October or you get it now in January, though it takes about two weeks for vaccine to help someone develop resistance to the flu. One shot protects an individual for the entire flu season, which runs from October through May.
“Everyone who is 6 months of age or older should get a vaccination against the flu every year,” said Dr. Terk. “Children, especially those under the age of 2 years, as well as the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions are at increased risk for complications from flu — so much so, they could die.”
For those who develop mild flu-like symptoms, physicians say stay home to prevent spreading the illness to others, and drink plenty of fluids. Contact your doctor if you have severe symptoms or if you are sick and are in one of the high-risk groups. There are medications to treat the flu, and the CDC recommends the use of antiviral medications to treat influenza, starting as early as possible after becoming sick.
But doctors urge Texans to take precautions to avoid getting sick in the first place: Cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you sneeze; wash your hands often; stay away from people who are sick; and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. But the flu shot might be the best defense.
Lamb said PPGH has a limited supply of flu shots and to call the hospital's Family Health Clinic first at (940) 325-7891 to check on availability.