DALLAS, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- It is critical to seek medical attention immediately if those sickened by the flu experience chest pains or breathing difficulties, U.S. researchers say.
Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, a professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said chest pain or breathing difficulties while having the flu might be an indication of pneumonia.
"There are two antiviral drugs commonly prescribed to treat the flu," Kahn said in a statement. "The key is to see your doctor early during the illness, because the antiviral therapy is most effective if used within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms."
Vaccination is the single best way to protect against the flu, Kahn said.
"Infants younger than 6 months and those with some pre-existing conditions can't get the vaccination themselves, so having others in the household get vaccinated makes a big difference," Kahn said.
Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at Southwestern said research on flu trends in the past decade conclusively indicated when a flu outbreak occurred in communities with high immunization rates among children, the mortality rate in elderly people was greatly diminished.
"Immunizing the kids protects the elderly from dying from flu. That's one of the important findings from the past decade," Haley said. "That's what's new in flu."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of early November, only 40 percent of Americans had received a flu vaccine this season, but the researchers said it is not too late.
"Flu outbreaks can occur any time between late November and March, usually after Jan. 1. Year-to-year, it jumps around. But every few years we get an early peak before the holidays, like this year," Haley said. "However, when the kids go on holiday break it generally goes away and then comes back with a fury when they go back to school. Immunization takes two to three weeks to become effective, so there's probably still time for protection."
Most of the United States still has low levels of influenza, but in Texas it is high and numerous patients have been hospitalized and several died.