Health & Fitness

Sixth person dies of flu-related illness in Tarrant, officials say

A sixth person in Tarrant County has died of flu-related illness, public health officials said Tuesday.

No information was released about the person.

Five of the six had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

In Tarrant County, medical authorities are not required to report adult deaths related to the flu. They are required to report pediatric deaths, but there have been none.

Some flu-related deaths have likely gone unreported, said Russell Jones, the county’s chief epidemiologist.

“Absolutely,” Jones said. “It’s a very incomplete picture.”

Of the six, five tested positive for Type A influenza, the predominant strain this year. A subset of Type A is H1N1, also known as swine flu.

Three were older than 70, two were 40 to 59, and one was 30 to 39, said Al Roy, a Tarrant County Public Health spokesman.

While some flu indicators in Texas have leveled off in recent weeks, Jones was hesitant to say the worst is over.

“We’ve had a two-week plateau,” Jones said. “If that’s any indication, perhaps we’re getting close to the peak, but it’s just too early to say. We’ve had the kids back in school for a week, so it could go back up. We just don’t know.”

Overall, fewer people are catching the flu than last year, but some of those who come down with it are getting sicker.

“I think what’s jumping out at us is the severity among 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds,” Jones said. “We really haven’t heard about this since 2009-10.”

That was the last season when H1N1 was so prevalent.

Last week, John Peter Smith Hospital issued a “Code Yellow” and canceled elective surgeries, called in extra staff and worked to send patients home who were ready to leave. Code Yellow was still in effect Monday, but JPS officials said keeping six health clinics open on nights and weekends had helped ease the load in the emergency department.

Clinic staffers saw 216 patients during those extended hours from Thursday night to Monday night. The extra hours will continue through Sunday night.

MedStar officials continue to see a surge in calls, with an average of 42 extra calls per day, most for people with flu-like symptoms.

MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said that the call load increased slightly this week and that nothing indicates the worst is over.

“We are not seeing any drop at all,” Zavadsky said. “This has become the new normal for us.”

For patients who don’t have a hospital preference, MedStar is alternating between healthcare facilities.

“We are currently rotating hospitals so we do not overrun any one hospital,” Zavadsky said.