The flu continues to be widespread across Tarrant County with sick patients filling doctor’s offices and emergency rooms — yet there may be a glimmer of hope.
Tarrant County Public Health’s chief epidemiologist Russell Jones said the number of people with flu-like illnesses coming to emergency rooms may be dropping.
“I will tell you looking at the preliminary data, the very preliminary ER data, last week looks to be a peak,” Jones said. “We don’t know if it’s the peak.”
This year, the predominant strain is H3N2, which tends to cause more deaths and hospitalizations.
In Tarrant County, 8 deaths have been voluntarily reported to Tarrant County Public Health but Jones said there have likely been far more. All 8 deaths in Tarrant County had underlying conditions.
Dallas County, which has a more extensive reporting system, reported its 39th and 40th flu-related deaths this year, including the first pediatric death of a 17-year-old with underlying health conditions. Collin County also reported its first six deaths.
Even with the hopeful sign that the flu may be dropping, it won’t go away anytime soon.
During the last bad H3N2 season in 2014-15, the flu stuck around.
“We will look for it to come down but it will stay high into February,” Jones said. “If this was the peak, it’s about three weeks later than years ago and that flu stayed high into the third week of February.”
Glenn Hardesty, an emergency physician at Texas Health Resources, said they have also seeing some hopeful signs.
“We are still well ahead of the number of positive flu tests we saw at this time in 2017, but we are beginning to see the number taper off across our system,” Hardesty said. “Of course, that could change at any moment so we continue to be prepared for an influx of patients.”
In the latest report released from Tarrant County Public Health, which covers the week ending on Jan. 13, the percentage of reported influenza-like illness in the county increased from 8.8 percent during the first of 2018 to to 10.3 percent in the second week.
In schools, the percentage of all-cause school absenteeism was 5.8 percent in Tarrant County. That’s well below the absenteeism rate before the Christmas break, Jones said.
Those between the age of 25 and 64 make up 45 percent of the flu-like illness cases coming to clinics and emergency rooms, Jones said.
Despite a little encouraging news, cases were going up. MedStar said the were averaging 25 calls a day with flu-like illnesses a ten-fold increase over November.
Nationally, the flu was widespread in every state except Hawaii.
The proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness across the U.S. (ILI) was 6.3 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is the highest ILI percentage since the 2003-2004 season.
With reports of seemingly healthy people dying suddenly this season, Jones said people need to remember that the flu can be a killer.
“I think people are shocked that healthy young people die of the flu but with H3N2, we see more hospitalizations and more deaths,” Jones said.