While this year’s flu season may not be the worst statistically, there are more cases than usual, and East Texas is one of the hot spots.
“The flu shot this year is not protecting us 100 [percent],” Gregg County Health Department Executive Administrative Assistant Fred Killingsworth said.
Vaccination predictions come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, he said, and those predictions must be made almost a year in advance to have the supply ready for the flu season.
“They have to read the tea leaves and test the wind and figure out which variant’s going to really hit us hard,” he said. “They have to do that so far in advance that sometimes they miss and sometimes they get it right.”
When they get the prediction right, though, no one really talks much about the virus because the vaccinations work. It is only when the CDC guesses incorrectly that the flu is a major discussion topic across the state.
Texas is one of 35 states – out of 50 U.S. states and three territories and the District of Columbia – listed by the CDC to have widespread cases of the flu.
This year it is Type A, affecting more than 700 people across the state during Week 51 alone (which measures from Dec. 17-23).
Texas hospital laboratories reported 710 Influenza A cases and 67 Influenza B cases among 777 patients who tested positive for the flu during Week 51 of the flu season. Of the 48 “positive specimens” tested at public health laboratories across the state, there were 42 Influenza A cases and six Influenza B cases during Week 51, according to the Dec. 28 update from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Texas baseline for the percentage of healthcare visits due to Influenza-like Illnesses is slightly more than 6 percent, according to the CDC Dec. 28 update. In Week 51, the percentage rose to about 14 percent after being at about 10 percent last week.
Gregg and Rusk County are both categorized by TDSHS as “rapid test positive flu” counties in the state. It’s one of almost 100 counties (out of 254 in the state) listed at that activity level.
Prevention is key during the flu season, Killingsworth said. Steps people can take to protect themselves from the flu include taking multivitamins, keeping up basic good personal hygiene and staying away – as best as possible – from people who are coughing and sneezing.
“Wash hands as often as possible. Wash door knobs and handles used in public access areas. All those preventative things you just don’t think about,” he said. “That helps you in the long run.”
Although November is the best time to get vaccinated, there is still time to get the flu shot also. Even if people who have gotten the immunization contract the flu, it can still help reduce the severity of the symptoms.
TDSHS reported a spike in cases during the first week of December and that trend has continued, though there was a slight drop in cases from Week 50 to Week 51. This spike could correlate to the close proximity people have with others during the holidays when they gather with family and friends.
People who are immunochallenged will suffer the worst, Killingsworth said. These include children, the elderly and others with a weakened immune system due to other illnesses or medications.
In the northern states where winter weather can reach bone-chilling temperatures, people do not go outside as much and therefore do not come in contact with others as often – they can protect themselves a little more easily through that isolation, Killingsworth said. In Texas, though, people get out more often and have a higher chance of coming into contact with others who may have the flu and can spread the virus.
For people who get the flu, he said, the best thing to do is to go see a health professional who can prescribe medication to help. The main thing for people to remember is the best way to treat the flu is to treat the symptoms: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue – some may also experience nausea. In addition to prescriptions, the symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medication.
Fever is the key symptom to determine whether someone has the flu or a seasonal cold or allergies, though the CDC notes not everyone with the flu will feel feverish.
The virus is considered the most contagious typically when the person has a fever. How long the virus lasts depends on each person and their immunity, Killingsworth said.