As the peak of the cold and flu season approaches, officials with the Grayson County Health Department are asking people to get vaccinated to prevent the spread and limit the effects of the infection. This comes as officials with the heath department are expecting an average flu season for late 2017, early 2018.
“So far, it has been pretty average season for this time of the year,” Josh Stevenson, emergency preparedness manager for the GCHD, said Thursday. “It is about that time of the year when a lot of people have started to get their flu shots.”
Stevenson said these predictions are based on reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services and observations from areas that get colder earlier in the season. For this area, the flu season extends from October through May, however the peak months run from December through February, Stevenson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the flu, also known as seasonal influenza, as a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that affects the nose throat and lungs. Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and fatigue, the CDC lists on its website.
Since 2010, the seasonal virus has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases annually with between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. alone. Of these cases, between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually are attributed to the disease, the CDC says on its website.
The CDC advises that someone infected with the flu virus can transmit it before they know they are sick. While most people with the flu are most contagious in the first four days of illness, some may be able to infect others on the first day and up to seven days after becoming sick.
The disease is believed to be transmitted through droplets that are spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks and can also be transmitted via touched objects.
“The most important thing aside from getting the flu shot is to wash your hands often and stay home when you are sick,” he said.
Because of the time frame, Stevenson said, the GCHD recommends that individuals get their flu shots now in order to give their bodies time to adjust and acclimate to the vaccine. On average, Stevenson said the vaccines take about two weeks to become active and start preventing infection. Due to this gap, Stevenson said many people who get sick after getting the flu shot believe that it is the shot itself that made them sick, when in reality they were infected before it took full effect.
Stevenson said many believe that current vaccines use dead or inactive viruses, which can lead to infections. While dead viruses were once used in vaccines, Stevenson said modern vaccines do not. However, he added that following a vaccination, someone might feel sick or weak for about a day as the body responds to the foreign bodies in the system.
“It is a good thing because it means your body is taking it on and learning what to expect this flu season,” he said.
Stevenson said even if someone does get a shot, it is still possible for them to get the virus this season. Due to many strains of the virus, and its ability to mutate, Stevenson said doctors predict which type of the virus will likely be prevalent each season. Each flu shot carries protection from two to three strains, Stevenson said, adding that some concentrated vaccines may offer protection from as many as four strains.
In some cases, the predictions are incorrect and an unexpected strain of the virus may become prevalent. In these situations, the flu shot can still lessen the impact of the disease and lead to a shorter recovery time.
Beyond limiting the effects of an infection, Stevenson said getting vaccinated each year is important because it can reduce the number of people able to spread the disease.
Stevenson said many insurance plans cover the cost of a flu shot each season, and the health department has already started offering shots to its clients for $25 for normal doses and $45 for high doses.
“We see our customers, especially our older customers, start asking weeks before we have them available,” he said.