The influenza (flu) epidemic is not a new virus, but this flu season has had a dramatic affect on the entire nation including Nueces and Jim Wells counties. Many physicians are stunned at the number of people confirmed this season.

The flu is a contagious disease caused by a number of viruses with symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, body aches and more. This year, symptoms have also included diarrhea, abdominal pain along with nausea and vomiting, according to Margot Rios, Chief Nursing Officer at the CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 23, the hospital in Alice has had a total of 871 combined cases of flu A and flu B; that’s 616 cases for flu A and 255 for flu B, according to Byrdi Gonzalez, CHRISTUS Spohn Infection Preventionist.

In 2016, there were 334 total flu cases confirmed and in 2015 there were 289 total cases of the flu.

“This is the busiest (season) we have ever see it,” said Rios. “People need to know they are contiguous 24 hours before and up to three days after they feel better."

According to reports, there have been 422 people confirmed with the flu in Nueces County as of last week.

The flu season starts in October and ends in May.

Every year in the United States, millions of people get sick with the flu. The severity of an influenza season varies from year to year and depends on many factors, including the strains of circulating influenza viruses, how much flu vaccine is available, when the vaccine is available, how well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness, and the levels of protective antibody in the population, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Due to the large number of flu cases confirmed, this year, physicians are treating everyone with flu-like symptoms as if they have the virus.

While the vaccine is never 100 percent guaranteed due to the different strains of the virus, it is still recommended. The flu vaccine is created by monitoring previous flu viruses. The vaccine may not work for every strain of the flu virus.

"Information published on the efficacy of the flu vaccine should not deter residents from receiving the vaccine, but rather encourage residents to receive it. The flu vaccine protects from various different types of flu and reduces chances of becoming ill,” said Noelia Rodriguez with the Nueces County Public Health District. "In the past three years, peak flu season for the Nueces County has occurred late-January to mid-February. The vaccine takes about two weeks post vaccination to get full coverage, so it is of essence to receive the vaccination now to get the full protection of the Flu vaccine during peak flu season.”

The best advice on preventing the spread of the virus is hand hygiene, cover a cough and get vaccinated, according to Cheryl Braun, Emergency Department ICU Manager at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice.

According to the CDC, an estimated 23,607 (range 3,349-48,614) influenza-associated deaths and over 200,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations occur every year in the United States. The highest rates of influenza infection occur among children, but the risks for serious health problems, hospitalizations, and deaths from influenza are higher among people 65 years of age or older, young children, pregnant women, and people of any age who have medical conditions that place them at increased risk for complications from influenza. Anyone though, including healthy people, can get influenza, and serious health problems from influenza can occur at any age. 

With many rumors about vaccines some people shy away from the flu vaccine.

Braun advises people who don’t want to get the vaccine to stay away from people, stay at home because they are infectious. Take medications as prescribed and be careful with over the counter products, and stay hydrated. Don’t share anything such as drinks, food and utensils.

And after you are better wash everything you have touched, throw away your toothbrush and protect yourself from getting the virus again.

Anyone, who has flu-like symptoms, is urged to seek medical attention. According to CDC, it is never to late for a person to get vaccinated for the flu.