Preventing the Flu

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Every fall, temperatures cool down, providing a welcome relief from the hot summer days.
Unfortunately, the fall also marks the beginning of everyone’s least favorite season — flu season.

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. This past February, a 1-year-old from the Rio Grande Valley died from the virus, according to the Department of State Health Services website.

The time from when a person is exposed to the flu virus to when symptoms begin is about one to four days, with an average of about two days. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

Joel Solis, a doctor at the McAllen-based Valley Medical Arts Clinic, says warning symptoms to look out for to see if you need a vaccine — such as a high fever, body aches, and upper respiratory symptoms — are easy to spot.

“However, symptoms can present themselves differently within certain age groups, such as gastrointestinal symptoms in pediatrics,” he said. “October is usually a good time [to get a flu shot]. The earlier the better, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop.”

Anyone, even healthy people, can get the flu, and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age. However, some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children, according to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most experts believe flu viruses spread by germs made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These germs can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose, the CDC website states.

According to Solis, the peak season for the highest amount of people infected with the flu varies, with January being the clinic’s busiest month.

“The vaccination is more of a protection,” Solis said. “However, its effectiveness can vary by individual and other factors. If a vaccine and virus in a community are similar/compatible, then its effectiveness — protection — is better. This means less complications.”

Solis said his clinic is well prepared for the incoming flu season.

“We prepare ourselves every year as a clinic by offering the vaccine early and extending our hours,” he said, “In addition, we have several influenza clinical trials that provide an option for patients and keep us engaged with influenza research.”

The CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions to help slow the spread of germs. These actions include: staying away from people who are sick, covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and frequent hand washing.

Solis said even with these actions, getting a flu vaccine would still help prevent the flu.

“Regardless, it is best and recommended to be protected,” he said.