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Take precautions during flu season

Some of the earliest flu cases seen in about a decade have Denton County Health Department officials encouraging the public to make flu shots a priority.

Juan Rodriguez, chief epidemiologist with the health department, told us that new flu strains have emerged this year, and that may explain why the flu has made an early debut.

Will an early start mean a more severe season? No one knows for sure, but it really doesn’t matter — every flu season is a serious one and every case can lead to serious health complications.

Max Schwolert, a 17-year-old Flower Mound resident, died over the holidays from a case of flu that turned into pneumonia and a staph infection. He was visiting relatives in Wisconsin when he fell ill on Christmas Day and was hospitalized, according to WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reports. Four days later, he died.

The teen was a healthy athlete who played basketball in a church league and played golf with his team at Marcus High School. His death has sparked Flower Mound residents to get flu shots and advocate for the preventive vaccine.

In a Facebook query Wednesday, more than 40 people from across the county reported flu-like symptoms.

That seems right in line with what Bing Burton, health department director, told us this week. He termed the flu season so far as “lively,” and urged those who have not had a flu shot to get one right away.

Vaccines being administered this season anticipated two of the new strains, health officials said, and should provide good protection.

In addition to recommending flu shots, health officials are reminding residents to help stop the spread of the virus by using standard preventative measures — wash hands often, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and stay home in the event of a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue.

Other advice? We could all do a better job of monitoring how we feel so we can seek help sooner, said Dr. Rouhy Prueitt, urgent care director for Denton Regional Medical Center. If people come in within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms, treatment can help make their symptoms less severe, he told us. That’s particularly important for people who have health problems such as asthma or diabetes.

Typically, flu season peaks in late January to early February, but Burton said the county is on course for an earlier peak this year.

We encourage you to give serious consideration to area health officials’ advice or consult your personal physician. And don’t forget the standard preventative measures we mentioned — there is still a lot we can do to help lessen the severity of this year’s flu season.