Last year’s flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, resulting in a “high-severity” classification that saw 172 reported child deaths and 19 consecutive weeks of record-breaking flu hospitalizations nationwide.
To avoid another hard-hitting season, local healthcare professionals are encouraging people to get flu shots.
“On the heels of what happened last year — knowing it was the most deadliest flu season and a low-vaccination year — it should have been a reminder to people to get their flu shot,” Texas Health Emergency Medicine Physician Glenn Hardesty said. “It sort of just falls off peoples radar.”
Flu season generally starts as early as October and can run through May.
“It is never too late for the flu shot,” Hardesty said. “Usually two to three days after exposure to the flu you will begin to have profound body aches. You will have a cough and cold to go along with this and run fevers. The flu will put you down and you are not functional.”
Bob Moos, public affairs officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said last year’s heavy toll underscores the importance of getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible.
“The hospitalizations and deaths were mainly among people 65 and older,” Moos said. “As people age, their immune system typically weakens and their ability to ward off diseases declines. Moreover, the flu virus can cause complications for those already struggling with chronic health problems.
“If you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B, your flu shot won’t cost you anything, as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays. There’s no deductible or co-payment.”
Hardesty said in addition to getting the flu shot, there are things people can do to stop the spread of the virus.
“Avoid contact with those who are ill,” he said. “Wash your hands. If you have the flu, minimize contact with others. Don’t go to work or school while you have symptoms. You are contagious while you are still exhibiting symptoms.”
Other measures to reduce the chances of spreading the virus include:
• Wipe down frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, elevator buttons and faucets. Simple alcohol-based cleaning products are effective to inactivate flu.
• Coughing and sneezing into your shirt rather than your elbow or hand is a good way to keep droplets and aerosols from traveling through the air and depositing on surfaces.
• Increasing air circulation in the room can dilute flu viruses in the air and limit their spread. This can be achieved by increasing the exchange rate of building ventilation systems, turning on ceiling or portable fans, and, if possible, opening windows.
• Air purifiers designed to remove particles should be effective at removing viruses from air too, although this has not been tested directly. A purifier with a HEPA filter and a high flow rate will remove the most particles.
• Surgical masks are particularly useful if worn by sick individuals. This intervention will help keep an infected person from spreading viruses around, as they come out even when you’re just exhaling. If you’re not sick but are around people who have the flu, wearing a surgical mask can help protect you from getting infected as long as it’s tight-fitting.