FORT WORTH -- Flu season started unusually early this year, and cases are climbing fast, Cook Children's Medical Center warned Friday."We are seeing a high number of cases, not only here at Cook Children's but across North Texas," said Dr. Donald Murphey, the hospital's infectious-disease pediatrician. "It's not just Fort Worth. It's not just Dallas. It's all over Texas."All children should get flu shots, he said at a news conference.The hospital's staff also urged parents to take children to emergency rooms only for the most serious illness.This week, the emergency room has been overwhelmed with as many as 600 young patients a day, resulting in long waits and exposing children to other illnesses.The staff is concerned that the situation will get worse during the holidays, when doctors' offices and clinics close or cut back hours.The first flu cases showed up before Thanksgiving, about a month earlier than normal. Every week since, the number has climbed.The week ending Dec. 15, 270 flu cases showed up, more than double the 125 the previous week.Also, during the week ending Dec. 15, close to 100 confirmed cases of respiratory syncytial virus, which affects young children, were treated."What we don't have is unlimited resources to take care of everyone," Murphey said. "If it's a mild illness, you can probably take care of it at home."Symptoms include fever, aches, cough, congestion, difficulty breathing and other respiratory issues. Most flu can be treated at home with rest and fluids. Aspirin is not advised for children.Key symptoms that would prompt a need to see a physician are rapid breathing, dehydration and persistent irritability, according to information distributed by the hospital.The flu shot remains the most important tool, but it takes several weeks to build up resistance."If you haven't already got one, you need to get one as soon as possible," Murphey said. "If you've had one in previous years, this one should serve as a boost to increase your resistance."In the latest report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 states reported widespread influenza activity. Ten states, including Texas, were considered to have high levels of flu-like illnesses.According to the CDC, 90 percent of this year's flu cases "are very well matched with this year's flu vaccine."Flu hits children, the elderly and people with underlying health problems the hardest.This year, there have been eight deaths nationwide and three in Texas.Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698Twitter: @fwhanna
Advice for parents
Treat mild illnesses with rest and fluids. If symptoms worsen, call your physician or clinic first.
If you take a sick child to the emergency room, keep healthy children at home. Don't subject them to other illnesses.
Teach your child to cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of their elbow. This will help prevent spreading germs.
More information: cookchildrens.org
Source: Cook Children's Medical Center