Fort Worth

Don't let your guard down yet. The flu is likely to stick around

A medical professional at a hospital in Georgia looks at a chest X-ray who has been diagnosed with the flu, which is holding steady across the United States.
A medical professional at a hospital in Georgia looks at a chest X-ray who has been diagnosed with the flu, which is holding steady across the United States. Associated Press

Don't let your guard down just yet.

Already the worst flu season since 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic, the deadly virus is refusing to go away.

Tarrant County reported its 29th flu death on Friday but there have likely been far more since cases are only voluntarily reported.

Dallas County, which has a broader reporting system, has confirmed 69 deaths.

In the latest report released Friday from Tarrant County Public Health, the percentage of patients visiting emergency rooms and clinics reporting flu-like illnesses surged from 11.6 percent the previous week to 12.9 percent, or about 13 patients out of every 100.

The report covers the week of Feb. 4-10.

That's the highest level since the 2009-2010 season when flu-like illnesses reached 17.3 percent, said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health.

"If it follows baselines from previous seasons, it could stick around until the first or second week of April," Jones said. "But I'm very confident it's going to be here well into March."

In Tarrant County and across Texas, the flu remains widespread. Nationally, the flu remains widespread everywhere except Oregon, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

The flu continues to hit younger age groups the hardest with 42.9 percent of the flu-like illness cases being reported in the 5-24 age group but the dominant flu strain is changing.

Rapid flu tests from hospitals and clinics across Tarrant County showed 64 of the positive cases were Influenza B and 36 percent Influenza A.

H3N2 is an A strain and had been the main form of the virus circulating earlier this season.

The increase in Flu B cases was also showing up in data released by area hospitals.

From Feb. 12-15 at all Texas Health Resources hospitals in North Texas, a total of 326 Flu B cases were reported while there were only 159 A cases.

It was the same at Cook Children's Medical Center where 377 Flu B cases were reported along with 277 Flu A cases between Feb. 4-10.

The good news is Flu B tends to be less dangerous than Flu A but there's also a potential downside.

You could get the flu twice.

"Getting Flu A does not protect you from Flu B," Jones said.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the vaccine effectiveness against Flu A and Flu B viruses.

Overall, the flu shot was 36 percent effective. Against Flu A, it had a 25 percent effectiveness while it was 42 percent effective against Flu B.

The CDC continues to urge people to get a flu shot "because the vaccine can still prevent some infections with currently circulating influenza viruses, which are expected to continue circulating for several weeks."

That was echoed by Jones who said individuals should do everything they can to protect themselves.

"You're reducing your chances by 42 percent against Flu B," Jones said. "If I were going to Vegas and playing cards, playing dice, I would do it to improve my odds. Why wouldn't you do it for the flu?"

If you want the flu to go away sooner, hope for warmer weather. There's some thought, Jones said, that colder weather helps the flu thrive for a variety of reasons.

For the most part, temperatures will be mild over the next week but a rainy forecast may keep people huddling together indoors.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna