The sneezing, coughing and shivering going on in homes throughout Grayson County is a sure sign that flu season has officially begun in North Texas.
Texas counties are reporting, like counties in 41 other states, higher than normal cases of influenza-like illness, according to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.
“It seemed to begin to spike right around Christmas,” said John Teel, director of the Grayson County Health Department.
He said the Health Department will be contacting local school districts and hospitals this next week to plan a conference call to talk about the flu. The purpose, he said, is to see where the situation stands in Grayson County.
While the reports of ILI are up, Teel said, people don’t need to panic. It is not as high as it has been in past years.
“No two flu seasons are the same,” Teel said. He added that there are several strains of the flu going around this year as well.
The good news, according to CDC statements to the Associated Press, is that the strain of flu going around this year seems to be well matched to the vaccine.
“It will be an interesting next six to eight weeks,” Teel said and then explained that normal flu season starts in February and ends in March. This year it seems to have started in December, and health officials are unsure when it will end. Teel said flu seasons have run as late as May, and no one knows where the influenza virus goes from May through October.
Teel said those who have not gotten flu shots are in luck.
“We had run out,” he said, of the vaccine. However, GHD staff noticed the uptick in the cases of the ILI and ordered more vaccine. Teel said the GHD currently has about 300 doses of the vaccine. People should call the Health Department to make sure there is a nurse on hand to administer the vaccine. Teel said the GHD plans to get more vaccine as the season continues, including about 500 doses of the flu mist.
The shots are also available at local doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
Teel and the CDC both recommend a pro active approach to stopping the spread of the flu. For instance, Teel said, children who have a fever, especially a fever with a cough should be kept out of school and public daycare. He said adults who experience the same symptoms should stay home from work.
Teel said the county has not heard from any school districts about the need to close schools based on the number of flu cases, but it is something the department will monitor. Teel said, generally such a move is not even considered until the number of absences from flu-related symptoms in at least one Texas school district tops 15 percent of its student body.
Should that happen locally, Teel said, the health department would work with the district’s superintendent and nurse to decide how to handle the situation. Closing the school would just be one option. If the school closed, Teel said, officials would have to decide the length of time for the closure.
While there is no way to guarantee one won’t get the flu, Teel said, there are several things one can do to lessen the likelihood.
For starters, he said, everyone should practice good manners and cough or sneeze into their elbows. Additionally, people should be mindful of the need to wash their hands with soap and water throughout the day or use hand sanitizers. Next, he said, it is important to be mindful when touching surfaces that are likely to be infected like public counters and shopping carts.
If a business provides sanitizer wipes, he said, go ahead and use them. Or bring your own.