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Flu shows no signs of slowing down in Tarrant County
By Bill Hanna
The flu season isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Flu activity is widespread in Tarrant County and across the state and continues to run about three weeks ahead of the last two flu seasons.
In the latest flu surveillance report released Friday by Tarrant County Public Health, the number of patients with flu-like symptoms seen by a sampling of doctors, clinics and hospital emergency rooms across the county for the week of Dec. 7-13 was 9.8 percent — the same as the previous week.
That matches the highest percentage of patients with flu-like symptoms that were seen last year but it doesn’t necessarily mean the flu season is close to peaking.
The percentage of positive rapid flu tests across Tarrant County went up from 33.2 percent the previous week to 38.6 percent during the week of Dec. 6-13.
“Flu is very hard to predict,” said Tarrant County chief epidemiologist Russell Jones. “It very well could go down with kids getting out of school for the holidays, but then again it will have more opportunity to spread.”
One key measurement regarding the flu’s severity is the number of ICU admissions due to influenza. During the week of Dec. 7-13, it was 1.4 percent, which is below the highest levels seen during last year’s flu season, Jones said.
Officials of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the flu activity is high across the South and Midwest, including Texas. The CDC has warned that this could be a severe season because one of the circulating strains, H3N2, has mutated and is not completely covered by the flu vaccine.
But Jones insists that the flu shot still provides some protection.
“It is still a good time to get a shot,” Jones said “There is still some cross-reaction that gives you some protection. It’s not just an either-or situation. It might be the difference between getting sick and still feeling OK.”
So far this season, Tarrant County has had two adult deaths, with both having underlying health conditions. Dallas County has had one adult death. Only pediatric deaths must be reported by law. Any adult deaths are reported voluntarily.
In Dallas County, the weekly flu surveillance reports give a sense of the flu season, but it’s far from a complete picture.
“It’s a good snapshot,” said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson. “It’s telling us what’s going on, but it doesn’t tell us about those individuals who never make it to the doctor or the emergency room and are self-medicating at home.”
While some physicians have speculated that the peak of the season could come early this year, Thompson isn’t very confident that will happen.
“It’s unpredictable,” Thompson said. “We have to see what happens after everybody returns from traveling after the holidays but right now, we’re definitely seeing an increase in flu cases.”
The flu kills 4,000 to 50,000 people a year in the United States each year. During the last flu season, there were 13 reported adult flu deaths in Tarrant County and one pediatric flu death. Dallas had 55 reported adult flu deaths last year and three pediatric cases.
So far this season, 11 pediatric deaths have been reported nationally, including two in Texas.
Health experts say that if someone gets sick, they should see a doctor within the first 48 hours. Within that time frame, Tamiflu can be prescribed to reduce symptoms.