flu outbreakFlu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, and outbreaks are no different. Although flu epidemics happen every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one year to another. The timing of the flu can vary from season to season and is highly unpredictable. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States happen in January or February, but seasonal flu can begin as early as October and continue into May.

The winter of 2012-13 was an abnormal winter for flu cases in Dallas: the flu season not only started earlier than expected, but there were also considerably more cases than predicted for December 2012. The toll on the elderly overall was more pronounced as well.

By February, the flu outbreak in Dallas had already slowed, allowing an early end to the flu season that started in the fall of 2012. It’s estimated that during that period more than 750 persons were hospitalized and 11 died by flu complication in the Dallas County.

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Flu outbreak in Dallas: Strains and vaccines

Aside from the swine flu pandemic that struck North Texas in the fall of 2009, the 2012-13 flu outbreak in Dallas could be considered the worst in almost a decade. The most unusual aspect of that flu season was the severity of illness caused by the influenza A “H3N2 Victoria” strain, the predominant virus hitting the nation by that time. For unknown reasons, elderly people who contracted it were more likely to be hospitalized, despite being vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the flu vaccine provided that year was only 9 percent protective for the elderly people who got sick, an occurrence felt in Dallas County: hospitalizations reported in persons over 65 years old doubled in comparison with the last two season, which were 14% each.

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flu outbreak in dallasFlu outbreak in Dallas: Peaks and Patients

The 2012-13 flu season possibly peaked locally in the second week of January, when new hospitalizations climbed to 170, the highest level, and about 6,000 county residents sought flu tests, with nearly a third of them being positive.

By comparison, new hospitalizations were down to 21 last week and only 10 percent of flu tests returned positive, said Elizabeth Hull Smith, the county’s epidemiology surveillance coordinator at the time. Fifteen additional flu-associated hospitalizations were also reported.

In January 2013, Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth was treating about 450 to 500 ER patients daily. A number that’s not so high, compared with the 600 ER patients they were handling in November 2012. Among those patients there were those with flu-like symptoms, upper-respiratory infections and a few cases of pneumonia.

Children’s Medical Center Dallas highest numbers were registered in December, when they reached the highest ER volume ever in the history of the facility: by January, they had already treated more than 16,000 patients in the emergency room (61% higher than the season before).

Want to read more about flu outbreaks? Check out this article: “Know your Flu: Virus primer on the H’s and the N’s.”

Photos from nbcdfw.com, CDC

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