As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, influenza vaccine is getting tougher to find across Longview.
“We’re getting lots of phone calls asking if we have the shots,” said Shawn Sams, a pharmacist at Louis Morgan Drug No. 4 — one of the few places in the city that still has a healthy supply of the vaccine. “People come in and say ‘I tried this place and that place but they were all out.’ ”
Sams said 125 people were vaccinated at the pharmacy Thursday, setting what he believes is a record.
It was the same story Friday across Longview, with one pharmacy after another running out of flu vaccine as well as the antiviral prescription medicine that helps lessen symptoms.
Cheryl Herbert, executive director of infection prevention at Good Shepherd Medical Center, said the hospital still had plenty of vaccine and Tamiflu despite being inundated with patients suffering from the viral infection.
“This was a rapid attack,” she said. “There were no cases, and suddenly — boom — a large number of cases quite rapidly.”
Herbert said the viral explosion began around the holidays.
“It’s very similar to what is being seen across the country,” she said. “It has been at least five years, maybe longer, since we’ve seen this much.”
The annual flu season hit about a month early, with widespread illness reported in 47 states.
“Only time will tell how moderate or severe this flu season will be,” said Federal Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden on Friday during a teleconference with reporters.
The death of a 6-year-old North Texas girl was reported Friday, the state’s sixth confirmed flu death this season. Nationally, there is no tally of adult deaths from the flu, but the CDC estimates flu kills about 24,000 people during an average year.
“Unfortunately, there are flu deaths every single year — some more than others,” Herbert said. “In a year like this, when we’re seeing more cases, we could see more patients pass away from flu or complications of flu. That’s why there is so much focus and emphasis on getting your flu vaccine, and good hand hygiene.”
This season’s vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains. It is 62 percent effective, according to government study results released Friday. Health officials are urging everyone 6 months or older to get vaccinated.
Besides getting a flu shot, health officials also suggest regularly washing hands with soap and warm water, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Officials also recommend staying away from sick people.
Good Shepherd has set up flu stations where visitors can get masks and hand sanitizer to help avoid spreading germs, and people who come to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms are separated from other patients.
“The emergency room has had a heavy flow of patients, so they have been on top of their game,” Herbert said. “They are very careful, when you suspect this kind of outbreak starting, to avoid mixing patients with flu-like symptoms with other patients.”
Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.
Most people with flu have a mild illness and can help themselves and protect others by staying home and resting. But people with severe symptoms should see a doctor, and may be given antiviral or other drugs to relieve symptoms.
People with medical complications such as diabetes, heart problems, lung problems or underlying health problems should seek medical attention if they suspect they have influenza because they are at greatest risk for developing complications, the most common of which is bacterial pneumonia. And among children, those with cancer, congenital heart problems and cystic fibrosis are most likely to suffer complications that require hospitalization.
But influenza is not the only bug making people sick. The cold virus and a nasty stomach virus are also going around. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference, but cold symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Flu usually involves fever, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours.