Viewers' Flu Questions Answered

Doctors prescribing Tamifu for flu-like symptoms

Doctors are alerting North Texans to take precaution against this year’s flu outbreak.

The latest numbers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments show that the flu has killed 36 people across the Dallas-Fort Worth area this season.

Some physicians are taking precautions to prevent the virus from spreading by prescribing Tamiflu for anyone who has flu-like symptoms, even if they test negative for the flu.

North Texan Wayne Acuff said he started feeling sick on Tuesday.

“Had a little bit of a cough, didn’t think too much of it. Woke up this morning, just felt like I had been hit by a truck,” Acuff said.

Acuff tested negative for the flu, but had the symptoms and got Tamiflu anyway.

Dr. Richard Honaker, of Family Medicine Associates in Carrollton, said that many doctors are now prescribing Tamiflu to people, like Acuff, who have all the symptoms but a false test.

Honaker states that 10 to 15 percent of the tests come back with a false negative, so he didn’t want to risk the virus spreading.

“The recommendation from certain academies and societies is if someone looks like they have influenza, it is better to go ahead and treat them even if their test is negative. Therefore you will prevent more cases and prevent fewer cases in the community,” said Honaker.

The flu vaccine is about 50-70 percent effective in adults, however, results are better in children, according to the CDC.

Two flu vaccines are available to the public:

  • The live attenuated influenza vaccine, or LAIV, is a nasal spray recommended for healthy, nonpregnant people between the ages of 2 and 49
  • The trivalent inactivated vaccine, or TIV, is a shot recommended for people who are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, experience certain long-term health problems, are a child or teen with long-tern aspirin therapy, are a young child with asthma or wheezing problems and are younger than 2 or older than 49 years of age

Before getting any flu vaccine, you should alert the health care profession of any severe or life-threatening allergies, if you have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome or have received any other vaccine within four weeks of the date you will receive the flu shot.

Honaker also answered NBC 5 viewers’ questions regarding this year’s flu outbreak. 

What are the symptoms of the flu being potentially fatal?
"The symptoms are the same, they are just more severe, more prolonged in other words if you have the flu and it is just going to be a regular case. Then you will get the fever … in another two or three days you will plateau for a day or so and get well … over two or three days. In those cases, which are very lethal and bad, the fevers will be higher 104-105 and the patient will feel sicker and look sicker. In other words, they will be dizzy when they stand up. They will be unable to get up and just generally look dehydrated."

We have eradicated Small Pox and Polio, why is influenza still so hard to control, and so deadly?
"The flu virus is unlike those other organisms. "The flu virus is able to mutate and it mutates very quickly, yearly or every three to six months you will get a new strain. As with small pox and things like that, it is the same strain the same genetics every year and forever. But with the flu virus, like I said, it can mutate its DNA and become a new strain, therefore people get sick every year who had it even last year."

If you have the shot will it lessen the flu?
"It will not lessen the severity of the flu, it will reduce your chances of getting the flu"

What's more effective - mist or the shot?
"They are both equally effective. The mist is used more in younger people and the shot more in older people, but they are equally effective to prevent the flu."

What is the incubation period?
"Two to five days. Generally, if you are going to get exposed to it you'll get sick in two to five days."

How long from the time someone encounters someone with the flu until you start getting symptoms? 
"Two to five days, probably. And that is when the first symptom would occur. The problem with the flu is for about two days before you get sick, once you get exposed, it really takes about two days before you get sick and you are contagious during that time. So for about a day or two before you get the fever, maybe a day before you get the fever, you can spread the flu to other people and that is why it is such an efficient virus and spreads so easily."

NBC 5's Julie Fine contributed to this report.

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