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Flu makes first appearance in Central Texas

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

Central Texas families may have an unwelcome guest this holiday season – the flu virus. Health professionals in Travis and Williamson Counties have reported seeing cases of influenza early this year, and the flu season is just beginning.

Local health professionals said this week that the flu has not yet come to Caldwel

l County, but they expect to see it “any day now.”

“Flu season generally runs from late-October to March,” Kim Wheeler of Lockhart Family Medicine said Tuesday. “Last year, we had a late season, with a lot of cases in February and into March. But we’re expecting that it’s going to start soon.”

Wheeler said her office still has flu shots on hand, and suggested that the shot and good hygiene are the best ways for patients to stay healthy.

“Really, good hand-washing is the best way for people to avoid it,” she said. “And if you’re sick, if you have a fever, stay home.”

Randall Kirtley of the Seton Family Health Center agreed, and expanded on Wheeler’s viewpoint.

“In a community like ours, we all see the same things at about the same time,” Kirtley said. “In general, we see more cases of the flu right around Christmas time and through January and February, but I know that up in the Austin area, they are seeing it early this year.”

Kirtley said many patients do not realize they can still protect themselves with an influenza vaccine, even after the start of the season.

“I see a lot of people that say, well, it’s already here, and I haven’t gotten my shot yet, so I guess I’m just out of luck,” he said. “That’s just not true. You can still get a shot and protect yourself at any point in the season, and we recommend that people do exactly that.”

Kirtley and Wheeler both suggested the most at-risk portions of the population, the very young, the very old, and those with already-compromised immune systems, receive a flu shot as soon as possible. While both cautioned the shot is not a fail-safe, they said it increases patients’ chances of avoiding influenza.

“Some people react badly to the shot,” Kirtley said. “It’s a dead virus, so they don’t actually get the flu, but we do have people report flu-like symptoms for two or three days after they get their shot.”

He also suggested that a whole-health approach is vital in avoiding illness during flu season.

“Naturally, people that take care of their whole health are going to have a better chance to stay healthy,” he said. “Folks that eat right and exercise , and have healthy habits are just less likely to get sick.”

Community Health Services Community Nurse Monte Kay Frederick offered a variety of advice to help the community stay healthy this flu season. In addition, her office sponsored a wildly successful community-wide flu shot clinic on Oct. 25, which she said served a great portion of Caldwell County’s at-risk population.

Some suggestions Frederick, Kirtley and Wheeler offered include:

– Flu vaccinations: Children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, as well as those that work in the public, such as teachers, store clerks and day care employees should have the flu shot every year. Flu shots are still available though your family physician.

– Hygeine: Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and wash your hands with soap and water for 20 second, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after coughing or sneezing.

– Stay home: Persons with the flu should avoid contact with others for up to five days after exposure to decrease the risk of spreading the disease;

– Stay away from people who are sick: Only those who are essential for personal care or support should enter a home where someone is ill with influenza, unless they have already had the virus this season.

Each year, Frederick said, more than 226,000 Americans are hospitalized with complications from influenza. Of those, approximately 36,000 die.

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