The influenza season is in high gear with 19 flu-related deaths reported in Denton and Dallas counties, and health officials continue to urge people to get flu shots.The Denton County Health Department recorded its first two flu-related deaths last week, and the Dallas County Health Department’s death toll has risen to 17.No pediatric deaths related to flu have been reported to Tarrant County Public Health, spokesman Al Roy said, explaining that only pediatric flu-related deaths are reported to the department. However, the Dec. 5 death of a Euless man could have been flu-related. The department’s chief epidemiologist said the man may have had H1N1 flu, but that has not been confirmed, Roy said Tuesday.Overall, the percentage of flu-like illnesses among all the illnesses reported in Tarrant County increased from 6.8 percent the week of Dec. 15-21 to 10 percent the week of Dec. 22-28, according to a weekly report on the health department’s website. The report for the week ending Jan. 4 will be released Monday, Roy said.“We are hitting the peak of flu season,” Roy said. “In Texas, the peak usually runs January to February.”Statewide, the Texas Department of State Health Services said medical providers are seeing an increase in patients with flu symptoms, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that flu is considered widespread in Texas and 24 other states.In Denton County, one of the two flu-related deaths was a female pediatric patient with underlying health conditions who had not received a flu vaccine this season, the Health Department said in a news release. The other was a man in his 70s, with underlying health conditions, but whose vaccination status was unknown.All deaths in Dallas County have been adults, officials said.The predominant flu strain being treated in North Texas is H1N1, said Juan Rodriguez, chief epidemiologist at the Denton County Health Department. HINI is included in the vaccine being given this season, he said.Flu shots urgedRoy said it’s not too late — and still important — to get a flu shot.“We were stating in September that people should get flu shots as soon as they can, because it takes two weeks to become effective,” Roy said. “People who haven’t taken a shot already should get one right away.”Heather De La Rosa, 25, of North Richland Hills felt she’d waited long enough when she showed up for work Thursday at Glenview Pharmacy in Richland Hills. She asked her boss, pharmacy manager Craig Winstel, to do the honors.“I know flu is on the rise,” De La Rosa said as Winstel swabbed her arm with alcohol. “I’m more scared that I could get it and then if I’m around a child, the child could get it from me.”At Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, eight patients were being treated Tuesday for the flu, spokeswoman Winifred King said.Numbers expected to riseThough the number of people coming to John Peter Smith Hospital’s urgent care and emergency departments with flu symptoms decreased from 235 during Christmas week to 110 last week, the statistics are higher than 5 of the last 6 flu seasons, hospital spokeswoman Kristen Newcomer said.Of 26 people hospitalized with the flu at JPS, seven are in intensive care, Newcomer said, adding that the numbers are expected to increase now that children have returned to school.Because flu is widespread in Tarrant County, hospital officials are asking parents to consider leaving their children at home when they visit patients at JPS.“It just makes sense,” said Dr. Vitaly Golub, a JPS epidemiologist. “It’s mostly about protecting the children who are not sick, but it’s also about protecting our patients from illnesses that children might bring to the hospital with them.” This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans