AUSTIN - As temperatures begin to cool down throughout central Texas, the focus on the flu ramps up.
“The (people) who should get a flu shot are anybody who doesn't want to get the flu,” explained Dr. William Howland with the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin.
They’ve been offering the vaccine for the past month, posting signs around the office about its availability.
“I think there's been an earlier onset of flu, particularly in the public schools this year,” said Dr. Howland.
The first symptoms of flu include high fever, chills, bad body aches, cough and congestion.
“It's kind of like you go from feeling well to suddenly being real sick,” said Dr. Howland.
It doesn't take long for the virus to spread.
“The closer we are to people and the more people that have it, the more likely that it gets transmitted from one person to another," said Dr. Howland. "So this year, there's already been some influenza in the schools, and it spreads rapidly there. Then after something gets in schoolchildren, it gets in their parents, their teachers, their doctors, their friends. So these things spread throughout the community.”
For those showing symptoms, it’s important to stay home from school or work to avoid infecting others.
“We think a person is probably contagious for at least the first four or five days when they're coughing and sneezing and these droplets get into the air," explained Dr. Howland. "Once you're exposed, you'll probably come down with symptoms within the first 72 hours.”
The CDC reported 101 flu-related deaths amongst children during the 2016-2017 flu season. Based off previous years, 80 to 85 percent of flu-related pediatric deaths have come in children who did not get the flu vaccine that season. The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone six months and older.
It’s a common misconception that the cold air causes the cold and flu. Dr. Howland said it's actually staying inside that leads to the virus spreading more quickly.
“These viruses that cause colds and flu are contagious," he said. "So the closer we are to people, and the more people that have it, the more likely it gets transmitted from one person to another.”
When it comes to treatment, many follow the old saying of "feed a cold, starve a fever." But that’s not the best advice.
“You want to stay hydrated when you're sick because your body uses a lot of energy in the immune system to fight off an infection,” said Dr. Howland.
Don’t worry, studies have found that that chicken noodle soup can help soothe symptoms, so feel free to eat up.
Another misconception: you can get the flu from getting a flu shot.
"It's just not true. The flu vaccine is a dead virus. It cannot infect you," said Dr. Howland, who said any vaccine could cause a low-grade fever or achiness for a day or two.
Dr. Howland said we’ll likely have a better understanding of the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot around January as more cases pop up.
Those 65 years and older, and people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, pregnant women, and young children are all at a higher risk for catching the virus.
To learn more about flu prevention and vaccines, click here.
To learn more about the CDC’s flu vaccine guidelines for those with egg allergies, click here.
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