It's Not Too Soon to Prepare for the Flu

The flu accounts for 31 million doctor visits and nearly 50,000 deaths each year.

The flu accounts for 31 million doctor visits and nearly 50,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

As temperatures across the Texas Panhandle start to drop, area health care professionals are busy gearing up for another influenza, or flu, season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates between five and 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year. Flu accounts for 31 million visits to the doctor, as many as 49,000 deaths and comes with a $10 billion price tag.

Todd Bell, M.D., director of the West Texas Influenza Center, estimated around 40,000 people in the area will get the flu this year.

“In our area, flu season generally peaks around the second week of February,” Bell said. “However, we think it could hit earlier this year.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the 2012-2013 flu vaccine last month. Bell said strains seen in the southern hemisphere are different from the strains seen in the U.S. last year but noted the flu shot will protect against the latest strain.

The flu shot is already being offered at area clinics and pharmacies, something Bell urged everyone to get. The CDC recommends anyone over the age of six months get vaccinated. Young children and adults over the age of 65 are considered high-risk.

“In general, if you’re still alive, you should get a flu shot,” Bell said. “It’s the most cost effective insurance against the flu available. By protecting yourself, you’re also protecting your family, neighbors and the community at large.”

The vaccine can be administered through a shot or a nasal spray. While the price varies, people can expect to pay between $20 and $30 for the vaccine. Side effects are generally mild but can include a slight soreness at the injection site or headache.

Bell also urged people to stay at home while sick, cough into their arms and to wash their hands.

“It’s important to wash your hands if you’re around farm animals,” Bell added. “Nationally, we’ve seen some cases of the H3N2v this year, so if you’re going to the fair or show pigs, it’s probably good to take some extra precautions.” According to the CDC, H3N2v is a variant of H3N2 influenza virus. When the virus occurs in pigs, it’s often referred to as swine flu.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, head and body aches and chills.

For more information on the flu, visit

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