Texas tops the nation in patients reporting flu-like symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anna Dragsbaek, the president and CEO of the Immunization Partnership, a Houston-based nonprofit group focused on immunization issues, told the Star-Telegram that “the report should raise a black flag for Texans and signal it’s time to get a flu shot.” Dragsbaek explained that the number of cases is low, but the important message in the CDC’s report is that Texas is showing a higher level than other states.
“It is still low. We don’t want to freak people out,” she said to the newspaper. “But now is the time to get your vaccine. When the numbers get high, that means the flu is in widespread circulation and you could already be infected.”
According to the Tarrant County Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report, no cases of flu have been reported this season, which runs from October through May.
Al Roy, a health department spokesman, told the Star-Telegram that the weekly reports are compiled from tests conducted at the North Texas Regional Laboratory on specimens collected from participating area healthcare facilities and community organizations.
According to Dr. Robert Genzel, an emergecy room physician, only two positive cases have been recorded in the last couple of months at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
“We do the rapid flu tests down here, and I don’t think we report those,” Genzel said to the newspaper. But the hospital typically won’t see many flu cases before Thanksgiving, Genzel said, adding that “the last couple of years it hasn’t really hit until January.”
A chart in the Tarrant County Influenza Surveillance Activity Summary archives shows that last season’s flu-like illnesses peaked in the second week of January, with more than 3,300 cases reported from Jan. 6 to Jan. 12. But “getting a flu shot doesn’t have to hurt,” said Phil Caruso, a spokesman for Walgreens pharmacies.
“Everyone’s afraid of needles, and that’s why we also offer a needle-free nasal alternative,” Caruso said, as quoted by the Star-Telegram. “CDC doesn’t recommend one over the other but does recommend [immunization] for everyone over 6 months old.”
Genzel adds that flu shots are highly recommended not only for the very young but also for people over 65.
“People with underlying illnesses can die from the flu,” he warns. “Patients with heart disease, diabetes, COPD, any type of cancer or autoimmune disease — in fact anyone whose immune system is already compromised — are more susceptible to a severe case of the flu and its side effects, like death.”
Immunizations are designed to protect against the viruses that CDC experts predict will be most common, Caruso said. This year, they are influenza A (H1N1) — a genetic alteration known as swine flu — influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B.
According to the CDC’s Texas surveillance results from 2009, H1N1 was cited as the cause of 241 deaths in Texas, as well as 2,317 hospitalizations and 583 admissions at intensive-care units.
The region that includes Fort Worth and Dallas had the state’s highest H1N1 numbers — 52 deaths, 726 hospitalizations and 116 ICU admissions. In Tarrant County, 12 people died, 131 were hospitalized and 34 were admitted to ICUs. Dallas County had 27 deaths, 453 hospitalizations and 56 ICU admissions related to H1N1.
However, according to the newspaper, all the sources cited in this report agreed that influenza relies on concentrated populations to spread and that vaccinated people are less likely to become victims.
Prevention is pretty much common sense, Roy said.
“We just hope that people will practice good hygiene, cover their coughs, stay home if they feel sick and get a flu shot before the peak of the season hits close to the end of the year,” Roy concluded.