Deep East Texas rates #1 flu outbreak in the nation

By Dr. Sharon Schuetz

The one thing we will probably remember most about the 2017 Christmas holiday season is the number of friends and family who came down with the flu this year. There aren't many families in Trinity County that haven't been affected by the flu this year. Even if you or your family haven't been sick, you probably know someone who has.
The "Walgreens Flu Index," shows that Deep East Texas is the hardest hit region in the nation right now with many people suffering from the influenza virus. Health officials warned early that the United States might have an unusually severe flu season this year.

There are a lot of factors involved in this prediction and the facts that prove them correct that we are experiencing now. The flu season started earlier than usual this year. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explains, "Sometimes that's the forerunner of a serious season." Of course, the season starting earlier doesn't bode well for the overall flu season. It means it will last longer and more people have a chance of getting sick.

The flu vaccine appears to have been only about 10 percent effective against that strain of flu that's hit East Texas this year.

The United States' flu season follows that of the Southern Hemisphere. Generally, we can expect to experience here what Australia has experienced in their flu season that runs before ours. According to Fauci, "Australia had a particularly bad influenza season for several reasons. A major reason for Australia's struggle is that the main strain of flu circulating there was one known as H3N2. That kind of flu virus tends to make people sicker than other strains, especially the elderly."

Flu strains are constantly changing and the H3N2 strain used to make the vaccine mutated during the production of the vaccine. This weakened the shot's effectiveness.

It appears that the predictions were more accurate than hoped and we are following the pattern laid out by the Australians for this year. There are things we can do to avoid getting sick. The Center for Disease Control offers some helpful suggestion to help avoid the flu during this unusual season.

1. Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.