5 things you can do to prepare for flu season that’s expected to be bad

Look out, Central Texas, the flu will be coming our way, and epidemiologists — experts in disease — believe it’s going to be a rough season. Doctors have started to see increases of flu cases in Massachusetts and Georgia and in our neighboring states of Oklahoma and Louisiana.

In Austin, we don’t have a deluge yet, said Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. In fact, cases have been light, but with other states seeing increases, he predicts we’ll see them, too.

Why? The holidays. Folks will travel in the next two weeks to states with more cases and bring flu home with them.

What can you do?

1. Get your flu shot.Even though the vaccine has been shown to be only 10 percent effective in Australia against one strain — the H3N2 strain — it still can lessen the symptoms of the flu in people who are vaccinated. “It’s discouraging,” Gros said, “but it’s still better than nothing.”

Anyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot, and children up to age 8 should get two shots the first time, about a month apart. It takes about two weeks after receiving the shot to build up full immunity. For people age 65 and older, there’s now a stronger shot they can get. 

A flu shot is especially important for the very young and the very old as well as anyone who has a disease — such as diabetes or a malignancy — that compromises the immune system, or if they have a respiratory disease. Pregnant women should also get the flu shot. 

2, If you feel sick, see a doctor ASAP. The good news is that the strain of flu that the shot isn’t as effective against responds well to treatments such as Tamiflu. The catch is that you need to begin taking the antivirals within 24 hours to 48 hours of getting the flu. If your doctor can’t see you, head to an urgent care center.

3. When in doubt, see a doctor. How do you know if it’s the flu? A flu comes with high fever, body aches and often a sore throat. A cold often does not have high fever or body aches. Cedar fever — that Central Texas allergy plague caused by the juniper trees — doesn’t come with a high fever, but does come with irritated eyes.

4. If you’re sick, stay home. “You’re not doing any co-workers or classmates any favors,” Gros said, if you come to the office or to school with the flu.

5. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand or the air around you.

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