Flu season still going strong in North Texas

Posted Friday, Jan. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Flu facts

Five to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.

The illness generally lasts one to two weeks.

Flu season begins in the fall and usually peaks in January and February.

Most healthy adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after symptoms appear.


Temperature of 100 degrees or higher or feeling feverish.

Cough and/or sore throat.

Runny or stuffy nose.

Headaches, body aches and chills.


Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children).

Preventive measures

Getting the flu vaccine is the best protection.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care.

While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

Who's at risk?

People 65 and older.

Children, especially those younger than 2.

People with chronic health conditions.

Source: FLU.gov

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With hospitals and clinics still seeing plenty of patients with flu-like symptoms, officials aren't ready to say the worst of the season is over.

"It's a little too early to say we peaked," said Robert Genzel, emergency room physician at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. "The numbers have decreased over the last five days but that's s too small of sample size. If it continues for another week or two, then we might be able to say we're past the peak."

At Harris Fort Worth, 284 patients were treated for influenza in December and 285 were treated during the first two weeks of January.

At Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, the number of influenza cases went from 427 cases the week of Jan. 5 to 514 cases the week of Jan. 12.

Seven pediatric deaths have been reported in Texas, including one in Tarrant County. The state doesn't track adult deaths.

Because the flu season traditionally peaks in January and February, experts are still encouraging people to get the flu vaccine.

"This season is shaping up to be worse than average," Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a telephone news conference with reporters Friday. "It's a particularly bad season for the elderly. But there's still time to vaccinate. Early treatment is important."

Apparently, folks are taking the message to heart.

At the SuperTarget in Montgomery Plaza, just west of downtown Fort Worth, pharmacist Verne Thibodeaux said the number of customers seeking flu shots tripled around the New Year.

There has also been surge in prescriptions for Tamiflu.

MedStar feeling the impact

Genzel, the Fort Worth emergency room doctor, said many patients can ride out the flu without seeing the doctor if they aren't seriously ill or in one of the at-risk groups.

"If you don't have any underlying conditions, you can take Tylenol or Motrin and ride it out at home," Genzel said. "But if you have those risk factors or you feel really light-headed or cannot keep liquids down, you're not making as much urine or you're in a confused or altered state, those are the people we need to see."

The flu has also impacted MedStar.

For the first nine days of January, the average daily volume was 299 calls a days, a 12.1 percent jump over December and a 15.8 percent increase over January 2012. MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said those trends have continued this week with call loads climbing as high as 310 calls a day. MedStar added extra ambulances this week to handle the increase in calls.

Texas still has high activity

Nationally, the CDC reports that hospitalization rate for patients 65 and over soared to 82 per 100,000 the week of Jan. 12. Typically, about 90 percent of influenza deaths are from ages 65 and older. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the H3N2 virus, which is the predominant strain this year.

Locally, officials said the hospitalization numbers among adults have bucked the national trend.

The JPS Heath Network said it hasn't seen any increases in hospital admissions for influenza and the majority of cases treated in the emergency room are not for influenza. At Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth, the number of hospitalizations has dropped over the last two weeks while the emergency room has stayed busy.

Nationally, the overall percentage of patients with flu-like symptoms seeing their health-care provider dropped from 4.8 percent to 4.6 percent through January 12. In Texas, the percentage was higher than the national average with 9.61 percent of visits having a flu-like illness, a slight decrease from 9.76 percent from the first week of January.

Texas was also one of 30 states reporting high flu activity for the week of Jan. 12.

Bill Hanna, (817) 390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

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