The Newsroom    Published Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 4:31 PM
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Q&A with flu expert Joan Nichols

Joan Nichols is the associate director for research and operations at the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. If you’d like to interview Nichols, call the UTMB Media Hotline at 409-772-8790.

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Facts about Flu

Why are winter months considered “flu season”?
The exact timing and duration of each year’s flu season varies. While outbreaks can happen as early as October some years, flu activity usually peaks in January or later. Colder temperatures may allow the virus to live longer. Transmission of the virus is easiest when people are indoors and in close contact more often. Dry air can dehydrate mucus membranes, making infection easier.

What can you do to avoid getting the flu?
Everyone should get a flu shot every year. Limit your contact with sick people. Get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat properly. Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you or your child gets sick, limit contact with others. Try to stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone.

How does flu spread?
The virus spreads through coughing, sneezing or talking to someone with the flu. The virus seems to spread in droplets so people who are sick should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Droplets can be transferred to your hands from objects you touch, and then to your eyes or nose from your hands. This is why regular hand washing is so important.

What happened to H1N1 and the other flu strains that garnered so many news headlines over the past few years?
Flu activity is low to minimal in Texas and throughout the U.S. right now. This will change during the next two months as we see more localized outbreaks of influenza A and B. H1N1 2009 influenza A is still circulating although it is not causing high rates of disease. Right now we are seeing a lot of influenza B and some influenza A viruses that are not H1N1.

Why is a new influenza vaccine made each year?
Flu viruses constantly change. It’s not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year. Each year’s vaccine is formulated to keep up with the flu viruses as they change based on what is circulating throughout the world.

Who should get the flu vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that everyone over six months receive the flu shot as soon as possible this season. It’s especially important for people at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu. This includes people with asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease, pregnant women, people 65 years and older and people who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications.

Joan Nichols is an associate professor in UTMB’s Division of Infectious Diseases and the associate director for research and operations at the Galveston National Laboratory. Her current research focuses on mechanisms the flu virus uses to attack the immune system.

 




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