HARLINGEN – While the Rio Grande Valley has experienced unseasonably high temperatures in the last few weeks, one specter of the winter season is still causing headaches for local residents.
Dr. Christopher Romero, physician adviser and internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, said that despite warmer temperatures, the Valley is currently experiencing well above average flu activity.
“This has been an extremely active flu season so far. During the first week of January, more than 45 percent of patients tested for flu like illnesses were found to have Influenza,” he said. “The virus is widespread in Texas, and unfortunately there have already been 1,126 deaths this season due to pneumonia and the flu. Multiple hospitals in our region have been at capacity recently and the flu is a contributing factor.”
While flu season traditionally starts in October and runs through the winter, Romero said the virus is actually active year round with the season running longer in South Texas and peaking between December and February. Because of the longer season, local residents — both adults and children — can still protect themselves by receiving their annual flu shot if they have not already done so, he said.
“If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet it’s not too late, he said. “The flu season can last until May, and we often see a second peak of activity in February so getting vaccinated now can still prevent illness and save lives.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, receiving an annual flu vaccine is still the best way to best protect against the flu. In a study analyzing the severe flu season of 2017-2018, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.2 million influenza illnesses, 3.2 million influenza-associated medical visits, 91,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 5,700 influenza-associated deaths. The CDC also reported that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74 percent. It has also been shown that being vaccinated can even reduce the risk for major cardiac events in those patients at highest risk for heart problems.
Romero said that it is important for those experiencing flu-like symptoms to seek medical attention as soon as possible and not try to recover from illness on their own. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headaches and general fatigue.
“The good news is that we also have antiviral medications to treat the flu for those patients that get sick,” he said. “The medicine to treat the flu is most effective when given as soon as possible, so it’s really important for people to see their doctor when they first start having symptoms.”
In addition to the flu vaccine, local residents can also take simple steps to protect themselves from illness, Romero said.
“Hand washing is a major part of staying healthy this flu season. Avoid people who are sick with the flu, and if you get sick please stay away from others to prevent the spread,” he said. “In addition getting plenty of sleep, exercise, and eating a healthy diet are great ways to keep your immune system healthy this winter.”