One child died and two outbreaks due to influenza or influenza-like illness were reported in Texas last week. Environmental conditions have been especially brutal of sinus and allergy sufferers. In addition to flu, other respiratory viruses—especially rhino/enteroviruses—were detected in Texas during the week.
March is usually the time when cases of influenza begin to decline. The official influenza reporting season for the United States begins in October and continues through May. In Texas, influenza activity usually peaks in January or February, although the peak of influenza has happened as early as October.
Every year in the United States, millions of people get sick with influenza (the flu). Influenza epidemics in the U.S. usually occur during the winter months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 23,607 (range 3,349-48,614) influenza-associated deaths and over 200,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations occur every year in the United States.
The highest rates of influenza infection occur among children, but the risks for serious health problems, hospitalizations, and deaths from influenza are higher among people 65 years of age or older, young children, pregnant women, and people of any age who have medical conditions that place them at increased risk for complications from influenza. Anyone though, including healthy people, can get influenza, and serious health problems from influenza can occur at any age.
The severity of an influenza season varies from year to year and depends on many things including the strains of circulating influenza viruses, how much flu vaccine is available, when the vaccine is available, how well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness, and the levels of protective antibody in the population.
“Influenza (flu) activity has slightly decreased the past couple of weeks in Texas, but it is too soon to tell if flu activity has peaked for the season,” a March 3, 2017 report from the Texas Department of Health Services (TDHS) stated. “Compared to the previous week, the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza reported by hospital laboratories and patient visits due to influenza-like illness (ILI) slightly decreased while the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza reported by public health laboratories increased.”
Treatment & Prevention
Most people who develop influenza illness will recover on their own by getting rest and will not need medication the TDHS indicates. Antiviral medications can shorten the duration and severity of illness if given within the first 48 hours of the illness. These medications are usually prescribed to persons who have a severe illness or to those who are at higher risk for developing serious illness or complications due to influenza.
TDHS emphasizes that “the best way to prevent influenza is to get an influenza vaccine each year as soon as the vaccine is available to the public. Vaccination is associated with reductions in influenza-related respiratory illness and physician visits among all age groups, hospitalizations, and deaths among persons at high risk, otitis media among children, and work absenteeism among adults.”
Other forms of prevention include:
- Hand washing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers,
- Covering your coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or your arm or sleeve,
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth,
- Avoiding close contact with persons who are ill,
- Staying home when you are ill, and
- Taking antiviral medications if prescribed by your doctor. In certain situations (e.g., influenza outbreaks in settings like nursing homes), antiviral medications may be prescribed to high-risk individuals to prevent them from developing influenza illness after exposure to infected individuals.