Monday, February 19, 2018

Flu cases rise in Gregg County, state

By Jimmy Daniell Isaac
Feb. 7, 2017 at 9:29 p.m.

Porschia Peters, M.A. holds packages of flu vaccine Tuesday, February 7, 2017, at the Gregg County Health Dept. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Flu cases are rising in Gregg County and statewide, health advisers said Tuesday.

According to the Department of State Health Services, widespread influenza activity has been reported statewide for at least the past two weeks, and the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza at hospitals and health labs increased this past week.

Gregg County Health Department Administrative Assistant Fred Killingsworth said he had at least one employee who called in sick Tuesday because she and her son have the flu.

"It's going around," Killingsworth said. "I don't know any exact numbers, but I know the incidents are popping up. With this hot and cold weather and people getting out and co-mingling, it's bound to happen."

He said the flu season still isn't as bad as in the past few years, however, as cases started to peak in December and declined toward the end of January.

Health officials said the more than 600 specimens statewide that tested positive for influenza spiked in the final week of January — particularly the H1N1 or H3N2 strains that have been confirmed in Gregg County.

Of the 1,600 cases reported statewide this past week, about 800 — or half — of the cases were among the age group of 5 to 24 years old. The 25 to 49 age group was the next highest, with almost 400 cases.

Influenza remains most deadly, however, to Texans 65 and older. So far, nearly 1,900 of the 2,421 pneumonia and influenza deaths since Oct. 2 have been among the state's oldest population, with another 388 deaths among those between ages 50 and 64, according to state health agents.

During the past four years, flu symptoms in Texas have gradually peaked at later times in the season. In 2013 through 2015, the percentage of health clinic visits because of flu-like symptoms peaked in mid-to-late December. In 2016, visits for the flu illness remained low but peaked in mid-February. So far in 2017, analysts are unsure when the season will peak — if it hasn't already.

"It's not as bad as it's been in the past, but this warm weather gives you a false sense of security," Killingsworth said. "I had a false sense of security thinking this warm weather that we had gotten past it, but it's still out there, still viable and people are still getting the flu."

Getting a flu shot won't prevent a person from catching the flu, at least within two weeks of the shot, but it can diminish the flu's effects if a person does contract the virus, he said, "because it will have already started your body to produce the antibodies.

"Joint pain, stomach pain, there isn't anything that doesn't hurt" when you have the flu, Killingsworth added. "All it takes is a good exposure to the flu, the real flu, and you become the staunchest advocate for the flu shot program.

"It's never too late, but the problem is, if you got a flu shot today, you're probably looking at two weeks before it becomes effective."



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