The flu virus is being tracked in approximately half the counties in Texas, with many county health departments already reporting the number of hospital and doctor visits for influenza higher than last year's totals, according to recent reports from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
While having the flu may mean an inconvenient, indoor vacation for a couple of days to most, those considered to be at high-risk for the virus should take measures to protect themselves, according to Big Spring Fire Department and EMS Chief Craig Ferguson.
“Flu is a serious, contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death,” Ferguson said. “By taking a few precautions, you can protect yourself and others from influenza.”
The most important step area residents can take in the war against influenza is the most obvious, according to local officials.
“Take time to get a flu vaccine,” Ferguson said. “The BSFD recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as the current season's vaccines are available.
“Vaccination of high-risk people is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older. Vaccination is also important for health care workers and other people who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading flu to high risk people. Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.”
Other measures for avoiding the flu include:
• Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
• While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Ferguson said antiviral drugs can also help if you've already caught the flu, especially if you fall into a high-risk category or care for those who are considered to be high-risk.
“Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them,” he said. “If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter. They can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For people with high risk factors, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
“Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person is a high-risk person or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking this drug.”
Ferguson said flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.