Flu is hanging on in Central Texas

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(KWTX) Locally and nationally doctors and health professionals are warning the worst of this year’s flu season still may be ahead and they’re urging people to take precautions and avoid risks when it comes to staying healthy.

“We are not out of the woods yet, we are in the peak of flu season right now,” Dr. Benjamin Barlow, chief medical officer of American Family Care, said.

“Of course, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated,” Barlow said.

It’s past time, really, but Dr. Felicia Macik, a Waco physician, says it’s not too late.

“The flu is scary,” she said.

“People are hospitalized for and die from flu every year. When you begin seeing Halloween costumes in the stores it is time for your flu vaccine. Once they put them away, you’re late.”

Kelly Craine, the public information officer at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, agrees that flu season isn’t over yet.

“We had 494 cases of flu-A reported last week and 649 cases of flu-like illness,” Craine said.

The numbers are showing a slight downturn, but not much of one, “and it’s the kind of thing that can break back out with no warning,” she said.

“It’s still hot around here and we want people to be aware of that,” Craine said.

It’s important to note, however, things many people do daily, as part of their routines, can put someone at an increased risk to contract the virus, healthcare professionals say, including: working out too much, because right now gyms are packed full of folks trying to make good promises to drop a few pounds left over from the holidays.

Doctors, of course, say regular exercise is good, but if you over-exert and don’t hydrate, that could weaken your immune system, opening yourself up to possible infection.

Also going low carb can increase your risk of catching the flu.

“Ditching bread and certain fruits is at the center of several low carb diets, but whole grains are good for your gut during flu season,” AFC says.

Rice, oats and buckwheat can build healthy bacteria in your stomach and some research undertaken by the American Physiological Society concluded a substance found in fruit and vegetables called quercetin reduced the likelihood of flu in mice.

Other risk factors include:

Doing It All – If you are starting to feel sick, don't try to be a superhero and do it all.

Puffing on the vape pen – a study found the vapors can trigger substantial inflammation in the lungs making them more likely to get infected by bacteria or viruses like the flu.

Stressing Out - When you let stress take over, you are more susceptible to getting sick, proven up by a Carnegie Mellon University study that found long-term stress could weaken someone's ability to fight infection.

“The flu is serious business, so you cannot ignore the symptoms,” Barlow said.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting at least 11 million cases of the flu for this season. There are ways people can prevent exposure to the flu and everyone should be attentive to things that might increase the likelihood of exposure.

“I used to scoff at those disinfectant wipes at the grocery store but now I am the first one to point out if the holder is empty,” Macik said.

The grocery store is full of people who already are infected, who live in homes where others are sick and it’s a good bet that a large number of people in the pharmacy line are there to pick up flu medicine, she said.

At Macik’s Waco practice, Uncommon Healthcare, staffers have started to reschedule appointments for some patients who are coming in for checkups or other routine things for later dates so as not to expose well patients to others who might have the flu.

“We’re just trying to be extra careful,” she said.

There are many ways to help prevent exposure, but five of them, most of which no one thinks about, include not sharing pens, whether at work, at school or signing a credit card receipt at a store.

Never pick up a public pen because they’re covered with other people’s germs, rather keep your own pen handy for any situation that could pop up.

Don’t use your fingertip when using a countertop touchpad for debit or credit cards or on the keypad at a gasoline pump, but get into the habit of punching in your card pin with a knuckle instead of a fingertip so if later you rub your eye or mouth with your fingertip, you’re not transferring germs.

And play it safe at the pump.

Of course, drivers must get gas for their vehicles sick or not, but it’s a good idea to grab a paper towel before picking up the gas nozzle.

Also shake and wash.

People are more germ-conscious these days so avoiding a handshake is not as rude as once thought, especially during flu season but if you must do it, wash or sanitize with your hands immediately.

And finally, hands off, please.

We constantly use either phones or computer tablets to show friends and coworkers’ pictures or videos, which subjects your devices to constant touching.

AFC suggests getting into the habit of wiping your phone down with a disinfecting wipe to cut down on spreading germs, or just text what you want to share to your friends.

The bottom line, Macik says, is if you’re handling something that someone else has handled and it’s not been cleaned, it can make you sick.

It helps to not spread the virus, too, if symptoms are present, Macik said.

Don’t go to work, keep your kids home from school and if someone in the household is sick, let them be royalty for the day so they can stay in their room and limit their interaction with other family members because “the flu goes from one to another in a close household and special care should be taken to prevent the spread.”

CDC reports significant presence of flu in 48 states and almost 40- percent of those asked said they would go on to work on a day they didn’t really feel well.

Doctors say remember FACTS when it comes to the flu: fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset of symptoms and they can help you determine if you have, or are getting, the flu.