In yet another sign that the flu is surging across North Texas, MedStar says its seen a 128 percent increase in flu-related calls from the previous season.
MedStar, which provides ambulance service to Fort Worth and 14 other Tarrant County cities, said it has had 5,240 cases where patients had flu-like symptoms through the end of 2017 compared to 2,294 through the end of 2016. In December alone, the ambulance service had 850 contacts with patients who had flu-like symptoms compared to 292 in December 2016.
MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said wait times for patients transported to hospitals haven’t increased but many emergency rooms are taking steps to deal with the higher number of patients.
“We have not seen a dramatic increase in the time our units are at the hospitals, but there are many hospitals that have placed temporary beds in hallways, and, in cases where the patient is hemodynamically stable, we deliver the patient to the ED waiting room,” Zavadsky said, referring to the hospital’s emergency department.
The surge in flu calls is in line with what Tarrant County Public Health officials are also seeing, said Russell Jones, the agency’s chief epidemiologist.
While flu cases may peak in the next week or two, the entire month of January will likely see a high number of flu cases.
“It won’t go down for a good six weeks,” Jones said. “I think the majority of cases have yet to occur.”
If you need more another sign that the flu is hitting North Texas hard, consider this statistic from the JPS Health Network: During the last week of December, JPS Health Network pharmacies filled 156 prescriptions for Tamiflu, a dramatic jump from 34 during the first week of the month.
“I had our wholesaler rush some on an airplane over the weekend,” said Pharmacy Director Nicole Shoquist. Tamiflu can shorten the duration of the illness if taken within 48 hours of onset of flu symptoms.
At JPS, the number of patients testing positive for the flu was 408 in December, up from 73 in November. During the first three days of January, 51 patients have already tested positive but JPS officials note that every patient seen does not receive a flu test.
It’s a similar situation at Cook Children’s Medical Center, where positive flu cases are also running ahead of last year.
Through the last Saturday in December, 380 patients out of 1,118 tested positive (34 percent) for Influenza A at Cook Children’s. The number of patients testing positive for Influenza B was far less with only 49 of 1,118 (4 percent) testing positive.
At Cook Children’s, the rise in flu cases hasn’t led to excessive wait times — yet.
“We have brought in extra staff to help accommodate the high number of flu cases we’re seeing in our emergency department,” said Kim Brown, a Cook Children’s spokeswoman. “We do not have an issue with wait times right now, but considering the circumstances that may change tomorrow or next week as we see more and more sick children.”
At Texas Health Fort Worth, 793 were tested for flu through Dec. 30 and 169 confirmed positive. From Dec. 31 through noon Wednesday, Texas Health Fort Worth had 72 positive flu tests.
In November, the New England Journal of Medicine warned this could a difficult flu season because of what was seen in Australia during its flu season, where there were a record number of flu cases. In Australia, the vaccine was only 10 percent effective against the H3N2 strain that was circulating, according to that same report.
H3N2 is the main strain currently circulating locally but Jones said other parts of the Southern Hemisphere didn’t see as severe of a season.
How effective is the flu shot locally?
“We don’t know yet,” Jones said. “The H3 component is less protective than we would like. We would like to see it up around 70 percent and last year it was in the 30s.”
Still, health officials urge those who haven’t been vaccinated to get a flu shot. The vaccine can reduce the severity and the duration of the illness.
With schools coming back from the Christmas break over the next week, Jones said it will also pose the risk of sick children infecting others.
“You need to be free of your fever at least 24 hours without taking a fever medication before you go back to school or work,” Jones said.
Flu vs. cold
Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. The flu can cause serious health problems.
Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.
Where to get a flu shot
The flu vaccine is available at all JPS Medical Homes in Tarrant County. For those without insurance or who will be paying out-of- pocket, the cost is $25.
These clinics are open for walk-in patients from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Medical Home Southeast Tarrant, 2050 W. Arkansas Lane
Northwest/Iona Reed Health Center, 401 Stribling Drive
Northeast Health Center, 837 Brown Trail
Fort Worth (JPS Main Campus)
Family Health Center, 1500 S. Main St., 4 th Floor
Magnolia Health Center, 1400 S. Main St.
Pediatric clinic, 1400 S. Main St.
Diamond Hill Health Center, 3308 Deen Road
Polytechnic Health Center, 1650 S. Beach St.
South Campus Health Center, 2500 Circle Drive
Stop Six/Walter B. Barbour Health Center, 4701 Bryant Irvin Road North
Watauga Gertrude Tarpley Health Center, 6601 Watauga Road