Officials Confirm 19 Flu-Related Deaths

Tarrant County officials say flu is widespread

Health officials in Dallas and Denton counties have confirmed 19 flu-related deaths as medical experts urge people to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, in Tarrant County, health officials consider the flu widespread.

Dallas County Health and Human Services confirms 17 flu-related deaths in the 2013-2014 flu season. On Monday, the Garland Health Department reported the most recent deaths were two patients younger than 50 who had no underlying health conditions.

The Denton County Health Department on Monday confirmed the deaths of one adult and a girl. Both of the Denton County patients were from the Carrollton area and had underlying medical problems.

Since the two deaths Monday, Denton County reports big crowds coming in to get flu shots. Their public health clinic in Denton has more than doubled the number of shots they’re giving out daily since late last week. The department said they continue to offer the shot for free.

In Tarrant County, offiicals with John Peter Smith Health Network are asking parents to leave children at home when visiting patients, especially if the children have any symptoms of illness.

“It just makes sense,” said Dr. Vitaly Golub, epidemiologist at John Peter Smith Hospital. “It’s mostly about protecting the children who are not sick, but it’s also about protecting our patients from illnesses that children might bring to the hospital with them."

The hospital said 26 people are currently admitted to JPS and being treated for the flu, including seven in the intensive care unit.

"The number of people reporting to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department with flu symptoms spiked to 235 the week of Christmas (December 22-28.). The week following the holiday brought a dip in cases; 110 people came to the JPS with flu symptoms the week of Dec. 29 - Jan. 4. That is still well above the number of cases reported during the same week in five of the last six flu seasons. And Infection Control expects cases to climb again once children return to school from their winter break," JPS said in a news release.

Dallas County Health Director Zach Thompson said the nature of this season’s outbreak shows why everyone needs to be immunized. 

“The influenza illness has really hit young and healthy adults very hard. We’re talking healthy adults.  In years past we focused on our elderly, our children.” 

Medical City Hospital in Dallas reports a 40 percent increase in emergency room visits the past few weeks - mostly because of flu cases. 

Medical City Emergency Medicine Director, Dr. Matt Bush said most of the patients have been treated and released but some were admitted to intensive care. 

“It’s certainly a worry as kids go back to school that they’ll spread flu through the school,” he said.  “It can spread quickly so it’s very important to stay home if you are sick.”

As the hospital deals with severe cases in the Emergency Room it is passing out fliers to visitors at front doors telling people with mild symptoms to stay away and urging everyone to use good hygiene including frequent hand washing to combat disease.

As the number of cases rises, flu fighting drug Tamiflu is in short supply at some pharmacies, especially the elixir for children. 

“We haven’t encountered patients who haven’t been able to get Tamiflu but we’ve certainly encountered stories of having to go to multiple pharmacies to get it,” Dr. Bush said. “That’s one of the reasons you don’t want to give treatment to everybody with flu like symptoms.  You want to save that medicine for people who need it.” 

Dr. Bush said most flu cases are relatively mild and patients will recover at home.  But severe symptoms of vomiting, difficultly breathing and body aches deserve a doctor’s care. 

And the experts urge all healthy people to get vaccinated. 

“There’s a lot of myths out there about why people are not getting the flu vaccine,” Thompson said. “Don’t believe everything you read. Get the vaccine. You’re seeing H1N1 is deadly.”

Flu cases at Cook Children's Medical Center started slowly in mid-November. The number of patients with flu-related illness quickly increased through December. The hospital and clinics now average about 300 flu patients a week. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services said medical providers are seeing an increase in flu across the state. Current vaccines are designed to protect against H1N1, commonly known as swine flu.

Child flu deaths must be reported to Texas health officials, but adult flu deaths are not tracked statewide.

Anyone who has not yet received a flu vaccine is strongly encouraged to get one.

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NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff  and Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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