Don't let the flu get you this holiday season

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is making its annual appearance in the Texas Panhandle for yet another flu season.

As always, doctors are recommending everyone, including babies as young as six months old, get their flu shots.

"We want everybody to be getting their flu shots in order to not just protect themselves, but those that are around them," West Texas Influenza Center Director Dr. Todd Bell said. "So, covering your mouth when you cough, washing your hands, staying home when you're sick and we need to get our flu shot."

Anyone can catch the flu, but one group of people are more prone to catch it than others. Elderly people have weaker immune systems and that combined with other illnesses of old age make them more susceptible and could make it more difficult for them to fight the virus.

"So, we have this population that is more susceptible to the flu," Dr. Bell stated, "and also has more of the complicating medical problems like diabetes or heart disease that would put them at increased risk of complications from the flu."

According to Dr. Bell, the rapid flu tests given in clinics miss 50 percent of flu cases. He said there is no "great way" to diagnose the flu, and the tests that come out negative do not help the doctors to come up with a different diagnosis.

The West Texas Influenza Center is conducting research with therapies studies, outpatient studies, clinical data and other information to learn more about flu season predictors and flu individuals.

"One of the things that we're looking at is is there a combination of just clinical data points. For example, age and heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate that can help predict better whether somebody has the flu versus some other virus. We see that during a typical peak of the flu season that 60 to 70 percent of the flu-like illness is caused by non-flu viruses."

Dr. Bell urges everyone to get their flu shot to protect both themselves and the people around them.

Flu shots are available at pharmacies throughout Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.