Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Texans experience worst flu season in almost 10 years
The outbreak of the most recent flu strain continues to spread.
Flu season is in full swing across much of the United States, with Texas being no exception. The Lone Star State has been one of the hardest hit so far this year, with multiple deaths occurring in the past few weeks, including a 17-year-old Flower Mound resident and a 6-year-old Pleasant Grove resident.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the virus is widespread throughout Texas, and the Texas Department of State Health Services reports that patients with flu-like symptoms are making 12 percent of all doctor visits statewide.
Dr. Lawrence Hum, medical director of the emergency department at Texas Health Presbyterian in Plano, said this year’s flu strain is especially virulent.
“This is probably the worst year since 2003-2004,” Hum said. “The main reason why one year is worse than another is the particular strain of the flu. … We are seeing a specific strain called the H3N2, a strain that causes more symptoms and more outbreak.”
Hum said while everyone is susceptible to catching the flu, there are certain factors that increase the risk of death.
“The very young and the very old are at more risk, as well as people who have extenuating medical conditions such as heart disease, emphysema, pulmonary diseases, and diabetes,” Hum said. “However, sometimes it is just the luck of the draw. Unfortunately, there are young, healthy people who can come down with serious pneumonias and staph infections that can be very deadly – with no warning signs.”
Dr. Rosemary Bates, a Plano-based physician, said people should be aware of the symptoms and take the appropriate action if they believe they are infected.
“The flu is different than just the common cold,” she said in a release. “The flu normally comes on suddenly and with greater intensity. Symptoms can include fever, muscle and body aches, cough, sore throat, headache, runny or stuffy nose, and extreme fatigue.”
Seeing a doctor shortly after becoming ill can help lessen the flu’s severity, Hum said.
“If you feel like you have all the symptoms of the flu, you need to see a doctor,” Hum said. “If you can catch it within 48 hours, your doctor can prescribe medicine that can decrease the duration and symptoms of the flu.
“It is never too late to treat the flu, but the cost of the medicine may outweigh the benefits. The flu is a five-to-seven-day disease, and if you are in your fifth day by the time you see a doctor, is the cost of the medicine worth having the flu for one less day? Probably not.”
Hum said it is not too late to get a flu shot, adding that many hospitals require their employees receive the vaccinations to protect their patients. He also said that since the flu vaccine is made of a dead strain of the virus, it is impossible to catch the flu from the flu shot. Therefore, there is little downside to getting the vaccine for most people, he said.
“What you can get are some side effects of the shot itself,” Hum said. “Those include muscle aches and a low-grade temperature. When people say they always get the flu from getting the flu shot, that is a myth.
“It may not protect you from all strains of the flu, but it will protect you from the three strains that are in the flu vaccine, and may ameliorate or decrease the symptoms of the other strains if you were to get it.”
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