Fall is one of the most pleasant times of the year in the Houston-Galveston region. Cooler temperatures are settling in after a long, hot summer, football is back, and holiday festivities are just around the corner. However, along with a long-awaited change in season, an unwelcome guest has arrived — influenza. Oct. 4 officially marked the beginning of flu season, which usually peaks between December and February.

It’s important to remember that the flu virus doesn’t discriminate — even healthy people can catch it. The virus easily spreads to others because people may be contagious an entire day before they begin to experience flu symptoms such as sore throat, cough, fever, body aches, headache, fatigue, and runny nose.

Once you have the flu, coughing can spread the virus to others. One can remain contagious anywhere from five to seven days after becoming sick, and children may remain contagious even longer. That’s why at UTMB, we’re taking flu prevention seriously and getting our flu shots. Are you?

Flu vaccination is considered the best defense against catching the virus, but it takes approximately two weeks for full protection to set in. Meanwhile, it is very difficult to predict how widespread flu will be each season. That’s why it’s important to get the flu vaccine before the flu hits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone six months and older. Vaccination is especially important for those at high risk for flu-related complications, including children younger than five, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and individuals with chronic health conditions.

Where can you and your family get vaccinated? Local retail pharmacies administer flu vaccines at an affordable cost. Many employers offer free flu shots to their employees, retirees and volunteers. You can also receive a flu vaccination from your primary care provider.

Although last year’s flu vaccine didn’t protect against all flu strains, this year’s vaccines have been updated to be more effective and include the three common flu virus strains expected to be circulating.

You can also help reduce the spread of seasonal flu by practicing good hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing or using hand sanitizers. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Other good health habits include eating a balanced diet, exercising, getting plenty of sleep and managing stress. Remember to avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, do your best to stay home. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. One strategy is to sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hand.
Make it a flu-free season. Get your flu shot today, and enjoy fall and winter knowing you won’t spend part of it suffering in bed!
Dr. Selwyn Rogers is the chief medical officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.