Texas Flu Season Death Toll Surpasses 4,150

Flu shot in California (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

The latest report released by Texas public health officials shows the state’s flu-related death toll surpassed 4,150 since the onset of this year’s influenza season.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) accounted for 4,153 pneumonia and influenza (P&I) related adult deaths plus six flu-related pediatric mortalities between October 1, 2017, and February 14, 2018 in its current 2017-18 Influenza Surveillance Report. Of the adult fatalities, 3,259, were older individuals ages 65-plus often plagued by underlying health conditions that result in flu complications. Also, 642 people, ages 50-64, and 232 individuals, 18-49, died.

DSHS figures reflect 73.5 percent of 2017-18 season-to-date flu cases diagnosed by Texas hospital laboratories were Influenza Type A, comprised of subtypes H3N2 and H1N1. Of these, roughly 86 percent of Texans had the H3N2 virus and 13.5 percent contracted H1N1, also known as the swine flu. Influenza Type B made up more than 26 percent of cases.

In total, the report reflected 26,890 cumulative positive flu cases season-t0-date. However, DSHS Media Relations Director Chris Van Deusen previously told Breitbart Texas there are likely “many, many more flu cases” than the numbers revealed by hospital lab tests. While Texas mandates that health care providers report all pediatric deaths to public health officials, it does not require reporting adult mortality rates. County health departments report these statistics locally. DSHS then compiles P&I related adult mortality figures from death records, which often results in a brief reporting lag time as officials must finalize death certificates.

As of February 10, DSHS figures reflected slight declines in the percentages of specimens testing positive for influenza-like illnesses (ILI). Hospital labs experienced a marginal 1.76 percent decrease and public health labs, a slight dip of 0.97 percent. Four Texas regions also reported less flu activity, but the report cautions, “It is too early to tell if influenza activity has peaked for the season in Texas.”

DSHS spokeswoman Lara Anton recently told the Houston Chronicle that flu activity “does appear to be coming down a bit.” She added that while the majority of flu cases involved the more virulent H3N2 strain, now more than half of the flu cases appear to be the influenza B viruses, which are milder and better covered by this year’s flu vaccine.

Also encouraging, Texas no longer tops the Walgreens Flu Index, a weekly report by the nationwide pharmacy chain. It charts prescription sales of antiviral medications. Since the beginning of February, Oklahoma heads this list. Texas dropped to the third state with the most flu activity, although four metropolitan areas remain top 10 designated markets with high flu activity: Dallas-Fort Worth (#2), El Paso (#4), Tyler-Longview (#5), and Waco-Temple-Bryan (#6).

The flu has pounded the Lone Star State, forcing an overwhelmed Dallas hospital to divert non-emergency ILI symptomatic patients to other medical facilities for treatment. Breitbart Texas reported influenza outbreaks shut down school districts around the state. Last week, 11 long-term care facilities reported influenza outbreaks, according to DSHS.

Influenza peaks at different times each year making it difficult to compare one year to another, says Anton. Still, Texas reported 2,421 P&I related adult deaths plus one pediatric mortality between October 2, 2016, and February 15, 2017. Two years ago, DSHS reported 2,427 flu-related adult deaths from October 4, 2015 through February 17, 2016. None were children. Anton said the state recorded more than 9,500 total influenza-related deaths last flu season and about 8,400 in 2016.

DSHS historical data revealed that during the entire 2009-10 swine flu pandemic, which was tracked from April 18, 2009, through May 22, 2010, Texas reported only 240 influenza-related deaths. This included 36 pediatric fatalities, age 17 and younger. The average age of death was 40-years-old; the median age, 42.

Public health officials remind people to stay home when sick, wash their hands often, and cover their mouths when coughing. They continue to advise it is not too late to get a flu shot.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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