The first three flu-related deaths were voluntarily reported Tuesday night in Tarrant County, according to Tarrant County Public Health.
The three deaths all involved senior adults (55 years or older) who had underlying medical conditions. No other health information is being released.
In Dallas County, 23 flu-related deaths have been reported with five new cases reported on Wednesday.
The three flu deaths do not give an accurate picture of the severity of the flu in Tarrant County, said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health.
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“There’s no reason to think we’re any different than Dallas County,” Jones said. “The flu is bad all over North Texas.”
Texas law does not require agencies to reports flu-related deaths for adults. Only pediatric flu deaths are required to be reported, but Tarrant County Public Health does receive some voluntary information from its healthcare community partners.
“It’s safe to say that we are currently experiencing a flu outbreak and these three voluntarily reported flu-related deaths reflect that,” Jones said. “This season is a mirrored reflection of 2013-2014, which was one of the more serious flu seasons of the past decade.”
‘Stay at home’
That season, there were 12 flu deaths reported in Tarrant County, compared to 58 (including three pediatric) in Dallas County.
“Recognizing the early symptoms of this disease and consulting your healthcare provider, so you can get on an antiviral medicine like Tamiflu or Relenza, is advice that could lessen the severity of the disease for you,” Jones said.
On Tuesday, the JPS Health Network advised those who are sick to consider other options before going to an emergency room for treatment.
On Monday, the number of people seeking care at the John Peter Smith Hospital Emergency Department reached 400, up from 321 on Jan. 1. The number of positive flu tests at John Peter Smith Hospital this month climbed to 252 on Wednesday, up from 187 on Tuesday.
“Most people with the flu do not need to come to the emergency room, urgent care or even my clinic,” said Chief Family Medicine Resident Dr. Rebecca Newton. “Most people with the flu should stay home.”
School districts have sent out news releases, urging parents to keep their children at home if they are sick.
‘High flu activity’
If you want another sign that the flu is surging across Tarrant County consider this number. At the six Texas Health Tarrant County hospitals, there were 541 positive flu tests between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.
At Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, 237 Type A flu cases were reported last week, down from 380 the previous week. H3N2, which is a Type A strain, is what is circulating this season.
“While the numbers are down compared to the previous week, our emergency department is still very busy,” said Cook Children’s spokeswoman Kim Brown. “We anticipate another 3 to 4 weeks of high flu activity.”
Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center Fort Worth created a dedicated flu zone to treat patients away from the rest of its Emergency Department patients, said chief nursing officer Val Gokenbach. The hospital had enough room to dedicate an isolated part of its waiting area to those with flu-like symptoms and to utilize and unused exam room.
If a patient has flu-like symptoms, the patient is asked to put on a mask and use hand sanitizer before they every sign in and hand over insurance information.
“We don’t even have them come into the emergency department unless they’re really sick or in need of more treatment like a chest x-ray,” Gokenbach said.
Since Jan. 1, 19 Tarrant County long-term care facilities have experienced a flu outbreak.
“H3N2 is the predominant flu virus in the country,” Jones said. “It tends to hit the older populatiom harder but when you look at the number of flu-like illness cases reported at clinics and ICU’s, we’re seeing more 24 and 45 year-olds with those symptoms.”
Man vs. flu
The flu season is raging, doctor’s offices, clinic homes and hospitals are packed and health experts are preaching the anti-flu gospel. Here are some of the highlights, courtesy of American Family Care.
- Get a flu vaccine and avoid close contact with sick people.
- With people trying to lose weight as part of their New Year’s resolutions, gyms are packed and breeding grounds for the flu. So make sure you’re wiping down equipment before and after you use it. Also, be careful not to over-exert yourself and drink plenty of water to keep your immune system strong.
- Don’t fear the carbs. Low carb diets are always popular (see New Year’s resolutions) but doctors say that fresh fruits are packed with vitamins and whole grains, such as rice, oats and buckwheat can build healthy bacteria in your belly. Research by the American Physiological Society concluded a substance found in fruit and vegetables called quercetin reduced the likelihood of flu in mice.
- If you or your children feel sick, stay at home. If there’s a fever, you should always stay at home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
- Carry a pen with you and don’t share it. That’ll help reduce the chance of spreading germs when signing a credit card receipt at a store.
- When pumping gas at the pump, use a paper towel to lift and place the gas nozzle. And use your knuckles (or that trusty ink pen) to punch in your gas card’s pin (that trick also works with debit cards).
- Don’t shake hands. With anyone. If you do, wash immediately.
- People are constantly showing their friends videos or photos on their phones or tablets, often letting their friends handle the device. Make it a habit to wipe down your devices with a disinfecting wipe or just text your friends photos and videos.