The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the state’s first child death of this flu season last month and local physicians offered advice to help prevent and treat the illness.
“I am now starting to see Flu A and overall flu activity is increasing,” Texas Health Willow Park Emergency Department Director Dr. Erik Ledig said. “The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends that everyone six months and older receive the flu vaccine yearly. It is especially important for those with chronic illnesses and high risk of flu complications. This would include adults 65 and older, pregnant women, young children — especially those under two — significant asthma, those with heart disease, history of stroke, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and cancer.”
During the week of Nov. 10-16, Cook Children’s Medical Center tested 529 children for the flu and a total of 74 tested positive for the flu — 63 with Influenza B and 11 with Influenza A — and 152 more were confirmed to have Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
“First and foremost I would advise anyone who has not received their flu vaccine to check with their PCP, the health department or even pharmacies to get the flu shot. It’s not too late to get one because we see flu sometimes through late spring, so it’s not ever too late to get one. Be aware that the elderly population, they get a more potent vaccine so they can develop better immunity. The older you are, the less likely you are to develop an immunity to a vaccine and so that’s why they get the higher dose,” Medical City Weatherford Family Medicine Physician Jessica Williams said. “Infants six months and older can have the flu shot and it’s the same dose that adults get. Used to they would give them a lower dose, but now it’s the same.”
Peak flu season runs from November through February and Ledig said there are several ways to help prevent the spreading of the flu.
“The best way to prevent and reduce flu symptoms is to be vaccinated each year,” Ledig said. “Other ways of prevention include avoiding close contact to those who are sick; staying at home when sick; cover your mouth and nose, use of mask or coughing in elbow; clean hands regularly; avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth; disinfecting or cleaning frequently touched surfaces, like work area; getting enough sleep; staying physically active; maintaining a healthy diet; and staying hydrated.”
According to the CDC, about 37 million people had the flu during the 2018-19 season, which resulted in at least 36,000 deaths. Williams said as of Nov. 22 she had seen about 10 flu cases just in her office.
“Stay home if you do have the flu and drink lots of fluids, get rest and try to minimize interaction with babies and elderly people. It’s the holidays and it’s hard to stay away from people, so if you’re sick, wear a mask,” Williams said. “Complications of the flu can include pneumonia, so if your symptoms aren’t improving, definitely check in with your primary care doctor.”
There are two types of vaccines available for the 2019-20 flu season and both protect against four types of the flu.
“The flu vaccine is still the best form of protection we have to fight off getting sick,” Cook Children’s Trophy Club Pediatrician Dr. Justin Smith said. “The vaccine is especially important for children aged six months to 5 years. They are at the highest risk for serious flu-related complications, including death. Even if you do get the flu, people who are vaccinated generally get a milder and less dangerous form of the illness.”
There is also a nasal spray vaccine available, which has been approved for use in people ages 2 through 49, according to the DSHS. However, people who are pregnant or have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, should not receive the nasal spray flu vaccine.
“Most who get the flu will have an illness that does not require medical care and may use over the counter medications to treat symptoms. Most people will recover in less than two weeks,” Ledig said. “There are antivirals that may aid in reducing flu symptoms and are best used if started within 48 hours of flu illness. These can be important for those at high risk of flu complications.”
Normal flu symptoms include fever/chills, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, cough, sore throat and stuffy nose.