Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2015 Vol. 62 No. 11

Influenza (The Flu)

Flu sign

Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women and young children. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that result in being hospitalized and, occasionally, result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

Flu Season

The Flu is Contagious
Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

People with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.

The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

Fever* or feeling feverish/chills

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

People who should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot:

  • If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine, talk to your doctor about your allergy.
  • If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS), talk to your doctor about your GBS history. Some people with a history of GBS should not get this vaccine.
  • If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Trivalent formulations of the influenza vaccine for the 2015-2016 season will include an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus, an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage). Quadrivalent formulations of the 2015-2016 influenza vaccine will include a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus in addition to the three virus components that are included in the trivalent formulation. Global laboratory surveillance for influenza viruses is the basis for changing one or more of the vaccine strains each year.

Influenza is a year-round health threat. Flu reporting season in the United States officially begins in October and continues through May. In Texas, flu activity usually peaks in January with high activity continuing through February, although peak flu activity has occurred as early as October.

Children with influenza are required to be excluded from school or daycare for at least 24 hours after fever has subsided without fever-reducing medication. Adults should not return to work for 24 hours after fever has subsided without fever-reducing medication.

Individual cases of influenza are not reportable by law in Texas.  State, regional and local health departments rely on volunteer clinics, hospitals, laboratories and others to report influenza data throughout the season. However, there are situations where influenza becomes reportable by state law. These situations are:

Influenza-associated pediatric mortality cases are reportable within one working day.

  • Novel or variant influenza cases are reportable immediately.
  • Influenza-like illness (ILI) and influenza-associated outbreaks in any setting are reportable immediately.
  • All influenza-associated pediatric mortality cases, novel/variant influenza cases, and ILI/influenza-associated outbreaks should be reported to the local health department or health service region.

Several Texas laws require specific information regarding notifiable conditions be provided to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Health care providers, hospitals, laboratories, schools and others are required to report patients who are suspected of having a notifiable condition.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Flu
Texas Department of State Health Services/Influenza

Share |