In Texas, flu season typically begins in mid-October and lasts through April.
Flu is very contagious. It can be caught from breathing in droplets in the air when someone infected with flu sneezes, coughs or talks.
The flu also is spread when people touch something with flu viruses on it such as a doorknob or handrail, and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
If flu outbreaks become severe, commercial and community activities could be disrupted for extended periods of time.
A pandemic occurs when a new strain of flu to which people have little or no immunity emerges and spreads around the world.
Preventing the flu
Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. Other prevention practices include:
- Washing your hands often, especially after being in contact with someone who has a respiratory infection or with children who get viruses easily.
You can also clean your hands with alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Covering your cough and sneezing into your sleeve, or using tissues. After using tissues, be sure to throw them away.
- Staying home if you are sick and keeping children home if they are sick.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Wiping surfaces such as bathroom and kitchen sinks, faucets and counters with a mixture of 1 part household bleach to 8 parts water.
- Taking good care of yourself physically and emotionally.
Symptoms of flu
Symptoms of flu come on suddenly, one to four days after a flu virus enters the body. These symptoms include:
- Sudden fever (100.4° F or more)
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Body aches
- Dry cough
- Nasal congestion
Children also may have an ear infection, nausea or vomiting. Young children with flu can develop high fevers and seizures.
Generally, people start feeling better after the body's temperature returns to normal, in about three days, and are ready to return to their normal activities in about a week.
Tiredness and a cough may linger for several more weeks.
The flu can lead to pneumonia and other life-threatening illnesses in people with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, kidney disease or diabetes.
Others at higher risk include those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, the very young and pregnant women.
The difference between the flu and a cold
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
Unlike flu, the common cold comes on gradually, rarely causes fever and is usually limited to a sore throat, coughing, sneezing and a stuffy, runny nose.
In general, the flu is worse. Symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense and come on more suddenly.
Colds generally do not result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations.
Preparing for a flu emergency
Be sure to add these items that are specific to flu emergencies to your disaster supplies kit. If flu outbreaks become severe, commercial and community activities could be disrupted for extended periods of time.
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As you make your family emergency plan, consider the following situations:
- If schools close, what are your plans for childcare?
- Can you work from home to minimize exposure?
- Who will care for sick family members?
Treating the flu
Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu® and Relenza® may reduce the severity of the flu. If you have flu symptoms call your health care provider and ask about getting a prescription.
Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help reduce fever.
Learn more about flu at: TexasFlu.org