Ring Out The Old, Ring In The Flu

AP Photo
AP Photo

In a year marked by an unprecedented case of the deadly Ebola virus entering the United States through Dallas and a fatal outbreak of Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) that peaked with record numbers of children experiencing paralysis-like symptoms, 2014 will close in Texas with more illness — flu not contained by its vaccine and an appearance by the unexpected Hantavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced four influenza-associated pediatric deaths nationwide earlier in December. Three were the influenza Type A (H3N2) virus and one was the influenza B virus.

They also confirmed 11 influenza-associated deaths this flu season, two of which were in Texas, earlier this month and a third was pending confirmation based on autopsy results, according to CBS DFW.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) said that the flu season began on September 28, when Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) was still wreaking havoc statewide.

Breibart Texas reported EV-D68 was one of the more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses first identified in California in 1962. EV-D68 spiked in  in Texas with 14 children diagnosed and 28 patients in seven states who also experienced non-characteristic paralysis symptoms, including one North Texas boy in Collin County.

From mid-August to December 18, 2014, the CDC  confirmed a total of 1,152 people in 49 states and the District of Columbia with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68.

More than 40 of the 254 Texas counties have reported cases of the Type A flu virus, which has turned up in 99 percent of specimens tested by subtype, according to the most recent report from the Department of State Health Services, the Bryan-College Station Eagle reported.

CBS DFW predicted that the worst of the flu would likely hit North Texas by the end of the month.  To date, Dallas County has confirmed 3,871 positive influenza tests. Tarrant County reported two flu-related deaths.

Other confirmed flu-related deaths were reported in Florida (2), Minnesota (2), North Carolina (2), Nevada (1), and Ohio (2).

This year’s flu vaccine or mist will only cover about 50 percent of the influenza strains that are circulating, according to a CNN report because the virus may have mutated.

Despite a less effective vaccine, the CDC still recommends vaccinating children against the flu.

Zachary Thompson, Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) director furthered that sentiment, advising people to vaccinate regardless, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“With the flu vaccine not being as effective as in previous years, we have to rely more on hand washing and other ways to prevent infections,” he said. “Flu cases might go down as people are traveling around the country in the next few weeks, but they could go back up once everyone returns,” he said.

Flu activity on the week ending December 21 increased with 31 percent of tests returning positive for the flu. Only 26 percent of specimens tested nationally were positive for influenza during the previous week, the Dallas Morning News also reported.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) urged all higher risk people to get vaccinated against the flu. This included infants six months old and older, young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health conditions. DSHS cited those individuals at greater risk of severe complications if they contract influenza.

The flu is rampaging across Central Texas as well. KXAN-TV reported that it is so widespread that a quarter of the 300 children seen each day at Dell Children’s Hospital in the Austin area test positive for the flu.

On the week of December 7-13, the hospital saw 211 cases of the flu.  According to TV news outlet, 280 out of 400 cases of flu were diagnosed at the hospital on the week of December 14-21. For the most part, the flu can be treated at home.

“Children who have underlying respiratory problems who are having trouble breathing should be seen early,” said Dr. Sujit Iyer, a Dell Pediatric Emergency Medical Doctor.

He also told KXAN-TV, “Children who are having trouble drinking and keeping up with their fluid intake should be seen early. But older children who are generally healthy can be treated with both Tylenol and Motrin for their pain and fever can be managed at home.”

Much like Dallas residents will recall during the Ebola scare, children and adults are being advised that simple hygiene like hand washing is their best defense in preventing the spread of the flu.

In the case of children, Iyer recommended that kids who do not have the flu keep away from ones that do.

Iyer said that a person who has the flu is contagious a day before they start showing symptoms and then for five to six days after they are sick.

No one knows how severely Texans might be hit with the flu. This is the beginning of the season which is expected to run through February. Last year’s flu season was not as severe although 12,337 people were hospitalized nationwide with flu-related symptoms.

One hundred forty nine children died from influenza during the 2013-14 season, according to the CDC, of which 90 percent had not been vaccinated.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reported that this year’s vaccine, might provide some protection against the badly matched H3N2 strain, which is the most commonly circulating strain this season.

They noted that H3N2 tends to cause more severe illness.

“That, combined with the poor match, could explain why the flu is keeping Central Texas clinics and hospitals busy,” they suggested.

On December 23, NBC-4 in San Antonio reported that the DSHS warned people to protect themselves from another health threat — Hantavirus.  A person was diagnosed in the area with the illness in the Gulf Coast.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease, according to the CDC.  It is spread through the rodents’ urine and droppings. Humans can become infected when they breath in the virus after cleaning out an area where the rodents have been living.

The DSHS confirmed five cases of Hantavirus were reported in Texas this year.

In 2014, the Texas DSHS also reported there were also 351 cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Texas including four deaths in Hidalgo, Montgomery, Midland and Tom Green counties, respectively.

There were also 66 confirmed cases of another disease carried by mosquitoes — chikungunya.  The DSHS called all of these cases “imported,” which means that illness was acquired by travelers while visiting high-risk areas.

Chikungunya cases were confirmed in Bexar (5), Brazoria (2), Collin (3), Comal, Dallas (9), Denton (7), El Paso (2), Fort Bend, Gonzales, Gregg, Guadalupe, Harris (9), Hays (2), Hidalgo, Midland, Montgomery (2), Orange, Tarrant (7), Travis (8), Williamson and Wise counties.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.