Health officials say get a flu shot if you haven’t done so. The virus arrived early, hitting Texas and four other southern states harder than other regions. In this segment of Vital Signs, Dr. Shantala Samart, an infectious disease specialist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, talks about the flu strains being seen in Texas and why the virus showed up early.
Here are five key questions about the flu, with answers courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
1) What is the flu?
It's a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a vaccine each year.
2) What are the most common symptoms?
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (although not everyone with the flu gets a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
3) How does flu spread?
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
4) What should I do if I get sick?
Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician’s assistant, etc.).
5) How are the viruses chosen to make flu vaccine?
Each year, three different influenza strains are selected for inclusion in the seasonal flu vaccines. They're updated based on which strains are circulating, how they are spreading and how well current vaccine strains protect against newly identified strains. Currently, 130 national influenza centers in 101 countries conduct year-round surveillance for influenza and study influenza disease trends. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines which vaccine viruses will be used in U.S.-licensed vaccines.