The onset of flu season was late in Wise County, but the virus has already infected large numbers and appears to be responsible for the death of one man.
“We’ve had one death, a gentleman in his early 40s who appeared to have died from flu-like symptoms,” said Lee Ann Cummings, registered nurse and emergency room director of Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.
Although they are awaiting confirmation from the medical examiner, it appeared the man died from influenza.
The ER also received a case of a 25-year-old man who was having such bad respiratory problems from the flu he had to be transferred to University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas to receive a special breathing treatment known as extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The treatment provides heart and lung bypass support outside of the body, and it’s generally used on small children who are very ill and babies awaiting a heart or lung transplant.
“We had to send him there because he was having such a respiratory issue,” Cummings said. “He’s still in grave condition.”
Neither of the men had flu shots this year. But they are also outside the normal age range of people killed by the flu. Every year influenza causes as many as 49,000 deaths in the United States, and about 90 percent of those are age 65 or older, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re used to seeing the flu be fatal to the very young and the very old, but our most severe cases this year have been a 25-year-old man and another in his early 40s,” Cummings said. “This strain does not discriminate.”
Since Nov. 1, the Wise Regional ER in Decatur has seen more than 130 cases of people with flu-like symptoms.
“We’ve been seeing a pretty significant number of cases of the H1N1 virus,” Cummings said.
Fortunately, this is the first year there are vaccinations for the H1N1 strain – and with flu season expected to extend into April, it’s not too late to get one.
Cummings recommends everyone get a vaccination as soon as possible because it doesn’t become effective until 10 to 14 days after it is administered.
“With so many people returning to school, especially college, in the next couple of weeks, now is a good time to get vaccinated,” she said.
Other ways of preventing the spread of the flu are regular hand washings, coughing or sneezing into your sleeve instead of your hand, avoiding people with the flu, and staying home if you might have the flu to prevent spreading it.
The number of flu-related deaths is on the rise, and Texas has been the hardest-hit state so far this year. On Monday, neighboring Denton County Health Department reported two flu-related deaths, a young girl and a man in his 70s. The little girl had not been given a flu vaccine.
Seventeen flu-related deaths have been reported in Dallas County. As of Tuesday, Tarrant County had none. There have also been no deaths reported by the Wichita Falls Health Department, despite 125 cases of the flu since Nov. 1.
“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” said Bing Burton, director of the Denton County Health Department. “Getting vaccinated means you can help protect yourself from the flu, as well as protect the health of the community.”
Demand for flu shots is on the rise, though, which has caused some locations to run out of the vaccine.
Urgent Care in Decatur has no more, and Valu-Rite Pharmacy in Bridgeport has already gone through the 300 vaccinations they ordered this year. They’ve made a second order scheduled to arrive this week, but those have already been reserved.
Vaccines are still available at several other locations, including CVS and Renshaw’s Pharmacy in Decatur and Best Value Pharmacy in Rhome.
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat and sneezing might seem like the common cold, but the flu comes on much more quickly and includes other signs such as fever over 100, muscle aches, chills, sweats, headache, dry cough, fatigue and nausea and vomiting.
Flu is transmitted through the air by coughs and sneezes. Touching something with the virus and then touching your face also allows the virus to attack by getting into the eyes, nose or mouth.