Although fall weather has just barely arrived in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, the season that’s already here is flu season, and local health authorities are urging people to get their flu shots now before that other fall season kicks into full swing.
“We have already had a few cases here,” said Randy Brooks, the Grayson County Health Department’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
Brooks, who is also a nurse, said it is too early in the season to know how effective the vaccine is going to be this year. Last year, he said, it was deemed to be about 65 percent effective, but any vaccine is going to be 100 percent more effective at preventing the flu than not taking a vaccine at all.
“It is your best shot to avoid the flu,” Brooks said.
Even if one contracts the flu after taking the shot, he said, their bout of the flu will be weakened by the vaccine, meaning their symptoms will be less severe and the length of the illness may be shorter, versus if they had not taken the vaccine.
Brooks said there are many things people do to try to avoid getting the flu, but none of them are considered to be 100 percent effective. For example, one can be vigilant about hand washing, especially when out in public places like grocery stores or schools. Being careful not to touch one’s face in any way until washing one’s hands after visiting such places can really cut back on the chance of picking up flu germs left by strangers.
He said people can also stop the spread of the flu by staying home if they become sick and by keeping compromised individuals away from those who have been exposed to the flu.
The Center for Disease Control says that healthy adults can begin infecting others with the flu one day before symptoms develop and seven days after becoming sick. Symptoms can begin to show about two days after the virus has entered a person’s body. According to the CDC, some people can be infected with the virus and never have any symptoms, but stilll be able to pass the virus on to others. People with the flu are contagious for the first three to four days after their illness begins.
Elderly people and those with weakened immune systems are even more susceptible to the flu and can suffer more dire complications than others. Brooks said those people should be even more vigilant about protecting themselves from the flu. Complications from the flu can include things such as mild infections of the ear or sinuses and can also include more severe complications like pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain or organ failure. Those with chronic conditions like asthma or heart disease can experience worsening of those conditions if they have the flu.
Getting a vaccine for the flu, Brooks said, is one way to try to head off any of those complications. The vaccine is available from most health care providers and area pharmacies. Brooks said if people are concerned about the effects of the vaccine or are questioning their need to take it, they should discuss it with their primary care doctor. He said the vaccines given at local pharmacies are primarily the same as those available at the doctor’s office.