Odds are that you probably know someone who is or has been sick recently. They are in good company - the Denton County Health Department is reporting an earlier start to flu season this year as well as higher case counts than usual for this point in the season.
Although seasonal flu reporting to health departments is not required in Texas, most hospitals in Denton County report this information voluntarily in order to better track the flu season. Information comes from hospital lab reports of positive cases.
For the week ending on December 29, 2012, hospitals in Denton County saw 269 positive flu cases. In the same week last flu season, there were only 2 cases reported. This is only a piece of the puzzle, according to county health officials, but it does show signs of an earlier flu season.
Additionally, schools voluntarily report influenza like illness and health officials access hospital emergency room data; both are seeing an increase in flu cases.
The good news is that this season’s flu shot is a good match for the strains of flu circulating this year. Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu; officials said that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot if they haven’t already.
Children under 6 months are the pediatric group at highest risk of flu complications, but they are too young to get a flu vaccine. The best way to protect young children is to make sure members of their household and their caregivers are vaccinated. Those at high risk for complications from the flu include:
Children 6 months to 18 years of age
Adults over the age of 65
People with chronic medical conditions
People living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
People living with or caring for high risk individuals
Flu shots are available at each of the DCHD clinics, and the “super” flu shot is also available to those 65 years of age and older (see clinic information below). Shots are $20 each, cash only. Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP are accepted as payment.
Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Approximately 5-20% of U.S. residents get the flu each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is a wide range of seasonal flu death estimates, but the most reliable numbers exceed 30,000 deaths annually. Most flu deaths are easily preventable by getting an annual flu vaccination.
Contrary to popular belief, seasonal flu symptoms rarely include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms are commonly referred to as “stomach flu,” but many other viruses, bacteria, and parasites can cause these.
Flu-related complications include pneumonia and dehydration.
Illness from seasonal flu usually lasts one to two weeks.
Other important steps you can take in your daily life to stop the spread of germs are:
Wash your hands – Use soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you cannot wash your hands. This is the easiest way to stop the spread of germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth – Some germs can live for 2 hours or more on surfaces like door knobs, desks, and tables.
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing – The flu usually spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the droplets through the air and get on the mouth and nose of people nearby. Always cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away to prevent the spread of the droplets. If you don’t have a tissue, cover your cough or sneeze into the crease of your elbow.
Stay home when you feel sick – Stay home from work, stores, and public places, and keep sick kids home from school or daycare. Contact your health care provider for specific treatment.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people – and try to avoid contact with others when you are sick.
Practice good health habits – Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.
Denton: 535 S. Loop 288, Suite 1003
Lewisville: 190 N. Valley Pkwy., Suite 203
Please visit the U.S. Health and Human Services flu website (www.flu.gov), or the CDC flu website (www.cdc.gov/flu) for more details about flu symptoms, treatment, prevention tips, vaccination, and other flu topics. You can also get updates though Twitter from both agencies by following @CDCFlu or @FluGov.