Monday, 21 January 2013 by Grayson Edds
Flu season has come early this year, and Texas has made national news for its substantial amount of cases. To bring matters closer to home, Bell County is one of the top 10 counties in the state with confirmed cases of both types of A and B influenza, according to the CDC's surveillance.
Chris Van Deusen, assistant press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, provided insight on the season, saying the results aren't as bad as they may sound.
"We've certainly seen an increase in flu earlier than we would expect in Texas and much of the rest of the nation," Van Deusen said. "It happens from time to time. Most often the season starts in December and peaks in late January or February. That started earlier this year."
Flu season officially starts in October but tends to shift in both intensity and concentration period. The influenza virus isn't a reportable condition, Van Deusen said, but instead the CDC and health departments often use a surveillance network.
"We hear from doctor's offices, labs and clinics," he said. "We get an overall picture of what's happening instead. One reportable condition, though, is pediatric flu deaths – those under 18. There have been three in Texas this season."
Dr. Andrew Dale from WellStone Family Medicine Clinic in Belton said that preventative measures are the best way to prevent the spread of the influenza virus.
"A lot of people haven't been vaccinated and vaccinations are recommended from 6 months and up," Dale said. "It's not too late. Usually (flu season) hangs around for 12 weeks or so. Even if it takes a few weeks to get the antibodies to respond, it could still prevent you from getting sick."
The keys to prevention are the same that are heard nationwide every year: cover your cough and sneezes, wash your hands frequently and stay at home if you're sick. For those who may be at high risk for complications.
"The flu doesn't kill, but it's the people who are immune compromised that are approached for complications: over 65, kids under 2, anyone with chronic pulmonary (asthma, heart disease), kidney or liver problems, they recommend not only the vaccination, but treating symptoms with antivirals."
Van Deusen added that while preventative and supporting measuring such as washing your hands and covering coughs are important, getting the influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent getting and spreading the virus to your loved ones.
"We encourage people first to get the flu shot where they get the rest of their medical care although there are also community vaccinators such as pharmacy chains," he said. "You can also contact the local health department if you need assistance finding vaccines."