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Several deaths linked to swine flu in Texas


Posted 1/2/2014

The virulent H1N1 strain of influenza, also known as the swine flu, has been tied to several deaths in Texas including a Euless man who died last month, officials said.

A Houston teen, whose identity was not released, died late last week from the flu, said Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the city’s health department.

Several adult deaths related to flu, including three in Dallas and four in Beaumont, have been reported by city or county officials. But there is no official statewide tally because health departments are not required to report adult flu-related deaths to the state.

In Tarrant County, health officials believe 30-year-old Dustin Wright of Euless died Dec. 5 of complications related to H1N1.

“Since only pediatric flu-related deaths are reportable to us, we can’t officially confirm anything related to him,” said Al Roy, spokesman for Tarrant County Public Health. “But our chief epidemiologist ordered a copy of his records and he told me the man had H1N1 flu.

“If anything, this man’s death shows that flu can kill. And getting a flu shot in time offers some protection against H1N1 as well as seasonal flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Texas is one of six states with “high” activity of influenza-like illnesses.

Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said flu activity is “high and widespread, because it’s increased and because it’s been reported in multiple parts of the state.”

The other states classified as having high rates are Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama.

About 95 percent of the Texas influenza cases are H1N1, also known as the swine flu. It’s not the swine flu strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, but a milder California version. The flu vaccine currently available defends against H1N1.

A network of Texas hospitals tracks the flu’s progression each year. This season, infections are spiking weeks earlier than normal, according to statistics compiled by State Health Services. The percentage of hospital visits due to flu symptoms is double what is typical for December, and rates don’t usually reach these levels until late January or February.

Flu in Tarrant, Dallas counties

Three new cases of H1N1 were reported recently to Tarrant County Public Health, said county spokesman Marc Flake.

As of Dec. 21, the county logged 2,786 specimens that were tested for all forms of flu. Among those, 989, or 35.5 percent, tested positive for the disease.

Also, 98.5 percent of the positive specimens were Influenza A, and of those, 95 percent were H1N1, according to Tarrant County data.

Officials expect to see a lot more cases before the end of the season, Flake said. And there could be a lot more cases than the ones reported.

“Here’s the problem: Flu is not a disease that’s required to be reported to the health department,” Flake said. Health officials rely on doctors, hospitals and school nurses to voluntarily report flu cases.

“So, this is not the whole enchilada,” Flake said.

In Dallas County, 1,328 positive flu tests have been reported since Nov. 2, according to data released last week by Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Of that group, 226 were hospitalized, and three people have died. None were children.

Whether it’s swine flu or not, what health professionals call “influenza-like symptoms” make people miserable. The symptoms include fever of 100 or above accompanied by a cough or sore throat that doesn’t have another cause.

Spokesmen for Tarrant and Dallas county public health departments said both agencies have plenty of flu vaccine available.

Tarrant County’s health department has the vaccine available at $20 a shot, and local pharmacies and doctor offices also have it. The vaccine takes about two weeks to be effective.

“It’s never too late to get a flu vaccine,” Flake said. “And since this is the New Year’s resolution time, put it at the top of the list.”

Across the state

Three men with other health problems recently died from H1N1 in Harris County, according to Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the county’s Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Northeast Texas Public Health District reported three deaths in Longview.

One person has died in Austin, Travis County officials said, while five others were in critical condition at Seton Medical Center Austin.

Five people have died recently from flu-like illnesses while patients at Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth in Beaumont, said Sheri Ulmer, Beaumont’s public health director.

They ranged in age from 26 to 67, and all had pneumonia, a common complication of influenza.

Test results show that two of the five tested positive for H1N1. Those two are from Jasper and Bexar counties. The other three were from Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties.

Staff writer Bill Miller contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press and The Port Arthur News.

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