HOUSTON (February 24, 2017)

As influenza continues to spread across the state, leading to a spike in hospital visits and doctor’s office visits throughout Texas, Memorial Hermann stresses the importance of vaccination and hygiene to protect against this dangerous and deadly virus.

The number of flu hospitalizations nationwide has reached a rate higher than the same point last flu season and shows no signs of abating soon, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the influenza viruses in circulation, influenza A is the predominant one. This is a more dangerous strain linked to a higher rate of hospitalizations and deaths, especially among those with weakened immune systems, as well as the very young and the elderly. From the start of the season Oct. 1 through February, influenza and pneumonia had already claimed more than 2,400 lives across Texas, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

However, recently released flu data from CDC shows that this season’s flu vaccine has been about 48 percent effective in preventing flu-related medical visits, offering protection from the more severe flu complications that tend to require medical attention.

“With flu season in full swing, we are urging people to get the flu shot if they haven’t done so already,” said Dr. Michael Chang, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “It’s important to note that the vaccine may not prevent you from getting the flu, but it does dramatically lessen the effects of the virus and can mean the difference between a few days sick at home as opposed to a few days in the hospital.”

It takes about 14 days from vaccination to receive full protection from the flu. Those who are interested in receiving the flu vaccine should speak with their primary care doctor or contact Memorial Hermann’s partner, RediClinic, which will continue to offer flu shots at locations across the Greater Houston area while supplies are available.

In addition to the vaccine, good hygiene practices – including regular handwashing and coughing and sneezing into your sleeve – can help prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses.

“One of the best ways to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands properly and thoroughly, preferably with soap and clean water,” Dr. Chang said. “If soap and water aren’t readily available, we recommend an alcohol-based sanitizer with a least 60 percent alcohol.”

Those experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and fatigue are urged to seek treatment from their primary care physician. Antiviral medications can help lessen the symptoms and shorten the length of an illness. Appointments are available with Memorial Hermann Medical Group physicians throughout the Houston region as well as with medical providers at a variety of RediClinic locations.