The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Locally, the Texas County Health Department is monitoring influenza activity weekly to determine if the number of cases appears to have peaked and if key flu activity indicators fell.

The agency’s communicable disease surveillance system monitors a number of community health indicators including influenza on a year round basis. Data compiled from a number of surveillance sites including schools, daycares, hospital, and area physicians give an overall picture of current health trends.

According to the health department, there have been four lab-confirmed flu cases in Texas County during the 2013-’14 flu season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in January or February, but can begin as early as October and continue as late as May. Most of the United States is now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI), according to the Center for Disease Control.

The health department said that while interest in flu vaccination remains steady since seasonal clinics began early last fall, vaccine supplies are beginning to dwindle within Texas County. After vaccination, protection can take up to two weeks to develop and lasts for about a year.

While getting a shot is still the best way to prevent flu, the importance of basic everyday measures must not be overlooked to help minimize its spread within the community.

The Texas County Health Department offers these tips:

Wash your hands (well and often) and use hand sanitizers. Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Someone who has the flu and sneezes onto their hand, then touches the telephone, the keyboard, a kitchen glass. The germs can live for hours, in some cases weeks, only to be picked up by the next person who touches the same object. So wash your hands well (for at least 20 seconds) and often. If no sink is available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Don’t cover sneezes and coughs with your hands – use the “Dracula cough” instead. Because germs and viruses cling to your bare hands, muffling coughs and sneezes with your hands results in passing along your germs to others. Instead, sneeze or cough into your inner elbow or upper arm, or use a tissue, throw it away immediately, then wash your hands.

•Don’t touch your face. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching
 your face is the major way children catch colds, and a key way they pass colds on to their parents.

Stay home when sick. If you are ill with flu or other respiratory illness stay home (or keep your child at home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone (unless leaving is necessary, such as to seek medical care).

Clean common use surfaces. At home, in offices or other public places, frequent cleaning of touched objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones helps to minimize transference of germs, particularly during flu and cold season.

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