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Ebola gets headlines, but flu should remain top concern

Physicians affiliated with Baylor Scott & White Health are expressing concerns that the recent wave of hysteria over the Ebola virus might overshadow the flu, which they say remains a serious public health threat.

Roger Khetan, MD, said in an interview with WFAA-TV (Channel 8) this week, that he has seen a spike in flu cases in the past week and he urged the public to get the flu vaccination.

Dr. Khetan noted that the effectiveness of the vaccine may vary, “but what it does do is it helps keep your symptoms lower than if you didn’t have the vaccine.”

The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide annually as a result of the flu.

“You want to get your flu shot between September to March and we really want it early so that you can fight the flu early,” said Dr. Khetan, who is on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

“Ebola is a major issue but for us right now it’s going to be the flu, especially as it gets cold for trick or treaters,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typical flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Those at greatest risk of more serious complications are people over the age of 65, those with certain medical conditions, pregnant women and young children, according to the CDC.

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Dr. Khetan was also joined earlier this month by two colleagues on the medical staff at Baylor Dallas, David Winter, MD, and Cherese Wiley, MD, for the most recent episode in our Google+ Healthy Hangouts series.

“It’s probably more important to get a flu shot, because it seems to work for most folks, than to worry about Ebola,” said Dr. Winter, the President, Chairman and Chief Clinical Officer of HealthTexas Provider Network.

Dr. Wiley said she does her best to dispel common myths about the flu shot with her patients. Among them: you can get the flu from the shot itself.

“The influenza vaccine is teaching your immune system what to do in the event you’re exposed to the flu,” Dr. Wiley said. “You can’t actually get the flu from the flu shot.”

But the shot does take about two weeks before taking full effect, so some people may get sick within that time period, Dr. Wiley said.

The doctors also urged people to avoid shaking hands when possible and to wash and sanitize often.

About the author

Scott Goldstein
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Scott is a former Dallas newspaper reporter. His father and two brothers are doctors, so healthcare is his family business.

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Ebola gets headlines, but flu should remain top concern