Worst of flu season yet to come; practice prevention to avoid illness

STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY

MARBLE FALLS — Marble Falls Middle School nurse Emily Kelley typically sees 70 students a day with problems ranging from an ankle sprain to a lost tooth. With flu season in full swing, she also might be seeing many students with symptoms of that seasonal ailment.

“You never know who’s going to walk into the nurse’s clinic,” she said. “I typically have the highest density of sickness (among Marble Falls school campuses).”

If health officials are correct in their prognosis that the flu season has yet to peak in 2018, Kelley’s office might be even busier.

“They’re expecting this flu season to last through April,” said Dr. Kimberley Russell, the medical director of Baylor Scott & White Clinic-Kingsland.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ influenza activity report released Jan. 27, which covered Jan. 14-20, there is widespread influenza activity across the Lone Star State.

Russell added that the predominant strain of flu this year involves a more “virulent” form of the influenza A (H3N2) virus.

Flu vaccines are typically 60 percent effective; however, the H3N2 strain has posed a challenge.

“This year, the estimate in terms of (vaccine) efficacy is about 30 percent effective in preventing the flu,” Russell said. “That’s the best they can do because the flu just tends to morph so frequently.

“That particular strain doesn’t develop well in eggs, and that’s how we develop our flu vaccines,” she added.

To try to stay a step ahead of infection, scientists are in the process of developing next year’s flu vaccine.

“(Receiving regular vaccinations) is alerting your immune system to a piece of the flu,” Russell said. “(The virus) tends to be less aggressive.”

Despite some debate over flu vaccines, Russell said the shots are comprised of “dead” strains and those who receive them and get sick most likely came into contact with an infected person.

For a number of people, vaccinations have become a tool their arsenal to fighting the flu.

“The more that you are exposed to inert or not virulent parts of the various flu strains that develop year to year, it gives you more protection over time,” Russell said.

Here are some practices to help avoid infection:

  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly (at least 15 seconds) with warm soap and water.
  • Get plenty of rest and hydrate frequently.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to crowded places more susceptible to infection during influenza season.
  • Wipe down surfaces regularly.

This school year, Marble Falls Independent School District officials have worked to arm students with information on a regular basis to keep the number of infections at bay.

“We’re making announcements about telling them not to drink after each other and to wash their hands often,” Kelley said. “If they don’t have soap and water available, it would be a good substitute to use hand sanitizer.

“I have talked to the custodians, and they’re doing above and beyond cleaning every night in (the nurse’s clinic) just because of all the kids coming through here,” the school nurse added. “The more education, the better.”

Go to TexasFlu.org for more information and precautions about this year’s influenza season.

connie@thepicayune.com

KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune staff Ed Chandler and Kay Baker contributed to this report.

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