The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

January 2, 2014

Widespread flu causes concern; local health officials encourage vaccine


Flu, flu, go away, come again another — no, wait a second — don't come again, any day.


This may be what residents crossed their fingers for over the holidays, but seasonal influenza (flu) — a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses — has indeed come again, as it tends to come hand-in-hand with the colder weather.


The illness has generated special attention recently after a strain of the virus H1N1, also known as swine flu, claimed the lives of at least five people in Texas.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported “widespread” flu activity in Texas this season, along with southern states Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. A “widespread” alert means that more than half of a state's geographical counties have reported flu activity.


But this is normal, according to Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.


“Right now, the level of flu-like illness is classified as high in Texas, and doctors are seeing an increase in flu in multiple parts of the state,” Williams said. “This is not unusual. This is what we expect this time of year.”


To meet that expectation, local health officials recommend that residents get vaccinated.


“It's the best defense we have,” Williams said, noting that the flu vaccine does cover the H1N1 virus — the same strain that caused a scare in 2009 after spreading widely and claiming 12,000 lives across the United States.


But health officials say that this particular strain of the virus is not as alarming as some make it out to be. In fact, seasonal flu viruses account for double that number, visiting approximately 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population and accounting for an average of 23,600 deaths annually.


The traditional “trivalent” flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common: the H1N1 virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. In addition, there are also “quadrivalent” vaccines available, which are made to protect against four flu viruses.

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