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Flu season hitting stride in December; East Texas counties affected

Flu season hitting stride in December; East Texas counties affected
DSHS
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POSTED: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 3:01pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 3:09pm

Flu season arrived in full force this December. The level of of flu-like illness currently stands as "high" in Texas, according to the Department of State Health Services.

In the last few months, Influenza A climbed steadily in Texas: The virus rose from less than 50 cases a week in October to almost 400 cases in the first week of December.

A noticeable uptick in the number of positive Influenza A 2009 (H1N1) tests also took place. More than 100 were confirmed in the first week of December, up from a small amount in October (see Figure 1 below).

East Texas was also heavily affected by Influenza A, as demonstrated in Figure 4 (see below) from the state's website. Smith County, Henderson County and Angelina County are the only counties (yellow in color on map) that have been confirmed by culture or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. The exact numbers are unknown because the flu virus is "not reportable," according to Russell Hopkins, director of public health emergency preparedness.

Hopkins told KETK cases are usually more widespread than known.

Shown in Figure 4, East Texas experienced positive rapid flu tests (aqua in color) and reports of influenza-like illness (dark blue counties) throughout the area. A rapid flu test is not full proof as a culture or PCR test, but is more right than wrong, according to Hopkins.

DSHS has recommended everyone 6-months-old and older get vaccinated. However, the best defense is non-pharmaceutical, Hopkins said.

"Prevention is the biggest thing. The flu vaccine is very effective. The most effective thing is washing your hands, covering your cough, staying home when you're sick and disposing of tissues."

More than 23,000 Americans are killed by influenza each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See more data on the state's website.

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