Look out, Central Texas, the flu will be coming our way, and those epidemiologists — the experts in disease — believe it’s going to be a rough season. Doctors have started to see increases of cases in Massachusetts and Georgia and in neighboring states Oklahoma and Louisiana.
In Austin, we’re not seeing a deluge yet, says Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. In fact, it’s been light, but with other states seeing increases, he predicts we’ll see them, too.
Why? The holidays. Folks will be traveling in the next two weeks to states with more cases and bringing flu home with them.
What can you do?
Get your flu shot. Even though the vaccine has been shown to be only 10 percent effective in Australia against one strain — the H3N2 — it still can lessen the effects of the flu on people who are vaccinated. “It’s discouraging,” Gros says, “But it’s still better than than nothing.”
Anyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot, and children up to age 8 should get two shots the first time, about a month apart. It takes about two weeks after receiving the shot to build up full immunity. For people age 65 and older, there’s now a stronger shot they can get.
A flu shot is especially important for the very young and the very old as well as anyone who has a disease that compromises the immune system such as diabetes or a malignancy or if they have a respiratory disease.
If you feel sick, see a doctor ASAP. The good news is that the strain of flu that the shot isn’t as effective at preventing does respond well to treatments such as Tamiflu. The catch is that you need to begin taking the antivirals 24 hours to 48 hours of getting the flu. If your doctor can’t see you, head to an urgent care center.
How do you know if it’s the flu? A flu comes with high fever, body aches and often a sore throat. A cold often does not have that high fever or body aches. Cedar fever — that Central Texas allergy plague caused by the juniper trees — doesn’t come with a high fever. It does come with irritated eyes. When it doubt, see a doctor.
If you’re sick, stay home. “You’re not doing any co-workers or classmates any favors,” Gros says, if you come to the office or to school with the flu.
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand or the air around you.