(Seguin) -- There's a good chance that you know someone who's got the flu. Some national medical experts have called this the worse flu season on record, with dozens of young and elderly patients dying due to complications with the influenza virus.
According to some members of the medical community here in Seguin, there's also been a higher number of flu cases reported locally this year. That's certainly been the case for Dr. Linda Sullivan, a family practitioner in Seguin, who says she's seen first hand how much the flu has spread across the Seguin area.
"This is certainly the worst flu season I've seen in the past eight years since I've been here. We have multiple diagnoses of flu a day, and it seems to be the case with my colleagues across town as well," said Sullivan.
Dr. Nicole Talbot, who also practices family medicine in Seguin, can vouch for Dr. Sullivan's claims. She says her office has also seen the numbers spike this year.
"I don't recall ever seeing this much flu, maybe when we had the swine flu in 2009, but I've probably seen 70 or 80 cases in the last six weeks. Normally you would just see a couple a week," said Talbot.
This isn't just impacting older patients, but many children are also contracting the virus. Dr. Bob Stephens, of pediatrician in Seguin, says the numbers have been steadily rising this season.
“We are seeing a lot of flu activity and I would say that the majority of the children that I’m seeing that are coming in with a respiratory illnesses, indeed have the flu,” said Stephens.
The flu can be very dangerous for some people. Dr. Talbot says your treatment may largely depend on the quality of your health before you picked up the flu bug.
"You don't need to take anything for the flu. It is a virus, so it does go away on its own. But there are certain populations that we treat with Tamiflu. Usually it's the younger children under five, especially under the age of two, some people that are over the age of 65 -- people that are elderly, and people that have medical problems, like diabetes, emphysema, COPD or asthma. We're probably more likely give them Tamiflu. And usually I'll give them something for the cough and that's about it. For fever, it's Tylenol and Motrin alternating," said Talbot.
Dr. Sullivan agrees, and says those folks who have chronic health conditions really face additional risk factors if they get the flu. She says those folks will need to get all the health they can to get better.
"I think the most important thing is to first consider who you are and what your risk factors are. People at highest risk for flu complications are those that are over 65 and under five. Those with chronic health problems, which include type 2 diabetes, any type of kidney (or) liver disease, (and) any type of chronic lung disease, including asthma or COPD. There's a long list of chronic illnesses. So there's a lot of people that actually should consider early treatment. For the most part, if we're talking about who really needs urgent treatment, it would be the very young and the very old," said Sullivan.
Prevention is the best course of action, and Dr. Stephens says that starts with getting yourself vaccinated. He says if you haven't already gotten a flu shot, you should certainly get one now.
“The strain that is circulating this year is called H3N2, and it is a more severe strain of the flu and it is a strain that is often not much prevented by the vaccine. So we’re looking at the vaccine effectiveness rate this year probably somewhere around 30 percent overall, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because in people who’ve been immunized, they might get the flu but their illness is going to be less severe. And when you have severe illness, you’re going to be less prone then to develop any of this more serious consequences of the flu. So we are still recommending the immunization, absolutely. If you have not gotten it yet, you should go out and get it. Flu season generally runs through March. So although we’re predicting that currently we’re probably seeing the peak right now and into next week, we’re still going to see flu activity for probably another six to eight weeks,” said Stephens.
Dr. Talbot says she's also encouraging her patients to get the flu shot. She says it's the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
"I got the flu shot and so far I've been doing well. The CDC's website says that effectiveness is around 39 percent. Each year it varies between 40 and 60 percent. So I think it's still beneficial. It takes two weeks or so to get the antibodies in and we still have flu season through at least March. Sometimes we see (the) flu in May even. I think I had case last year where I saw a person with (a) positive flu (test) in May," said Talbot.
The doctors say they recognize that some people are hesitant to get the vaccine. However, they say it can really make a difference. Dr. Sullivan says people often think that the flu is not a big deal, but she says there's a reason why the CDC and the entire medical community focuses so heavily on these viruses each year.
"The problem is for those people who are at higher risk, it can be life threatening. It is a virus with potentially very serious and life threatening complications, including pneumonia and sepsis. Sepsis is our body's response to infection and it's an overwhelming inflammatory response, that once it gets going, it's very difficult to stop. So if you have underlying heart disease, if you have lung disease you could end up on a ventilator. We are seeing increased heart attacks in people that have had a flu diagnosis. It's a very serious virus, even though some people may only get a mild case of it, especially those that have been vaccinated," said Sullivan.
There are lots of illnesses going around during this time of the year, and that may be another reason why some people may think that the flu is no big deal. Dr. Stephens says that people often say they think they have the flu. He says if you have it, you'll know it, and that's one of the reasons why you've got to stay home, rest and recover. Dr. Talbot adds that if you think having a cold is just like having the flu, you're wrong.
"If you have a cold, usually you still go to work. You might have a sore throat, a runny nose and you feel a little bit tired, but most of the time you can work through it. The flu is a lot more debilitating. People are in bed for days. They feel very sick, very achy, very feverish and they usually end up coming to the doctor, because they think there's something very wrong with them, like pneumonia or bronchitis. But sometimes you can get a secondary infection with the flu. You can get flu with pneumonia, or I've seen flu and strep throat, flu and ear infection. So if you just had the fever, the dry cough, the body aches, it's best to stay home and stay away from people," said Talbot.
All three doctors want you to get a flu shot, they also want you to know that -- despite what you might have heard -- it's a scientific impossibility for the flu vaccine to give you the flu.
“The flu shot is an inactivated or recombinant vaccine and what that means for the inactivated (vaccine) is that the flu virus is used to create the vaccine, but it is inactivated. Meaning it’s not infectious. It cannot give you the flu. The recombinant vaccine is not created with the flu virus at all. It’s (made) with recombinant DNA. So it is not possible to get the flu from the vaccine. However, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and so there will be people who contract the flu after getting the vaccine. That doesn’t mean that the vaccine gave them the flu. In addition, the flu coincides with many other viruses around this time of year. The common cold, RSV, (and others). So a lot of people may think they got the flu, but in fact, they got something else,” said Sullivan.
There are limited supplies of the flu vaccine here in Seguin, but if you look around you can find it. Dr. Sullivan says there are still doctor's offices, clinics and pharmacies that some shots available.
“There are still places where you can get a flu vaccine, and I would encourage everyone to actively seek out those places, particularly if you’re at higher risk for complications,” said Sullivan.
The local physician community has been consistently urging people to get the flu vaccine, and also encouraging sick people to stay home if they get the flu. Dr. Stephens says he also wanted to go a step further with his outreach this year. He says he took to social media to offer a series of flu tips for the community.
“We have been aggressively trying to immunize my patients since September, and we’re seeing a new wave of folks who are now very concerned (and) that want to come and get the flu vaccine. So I know there’s a lot of anxiety out there, and of course, parents in particular are worried about their kids and kids are a higher-risk group. So I tried putting information out there that would allow parents to perhaps be a little bit less anxious, but still know what to look for a know what to do,” said Stephens.
In addition to the tips that have already been offered, Dr. Stephens says one other way to protect your family from the flu bug is to try to limit what you bring into the household each night.
“People who have dealings with the public day in and day out — when you go home to your families, change your clothes, and wash your hands. When the kids come home from school, change those clothes because they’ve been in basically, you know, a virus bath for the entire day. And so get those off, get them in the laundry, get those hands wash, and that’s going to cut down transmission in the house,” said Stephens
According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, there have already been hundreds of flu/pneumonia-related deaths in Texas with individuals over 65 accounting for half of the flu-related deaths so far this season.