The flu has been affecting west Texas since the official start of the current flu season, which was September 30th, 2018. Between September 30th 2018 and January 2nd, 2019, 1,865 people in Texas died from pneumonia and/or influenza. There have been 5 pediatric deaths.

  Beginning in January the flu stepped up its assault on the Agriplex and it’s only worsened in recent weeks.

  Schools in Veribest, Winters and Paint Rock have all had classes canceled at some point since January due to the flu striking the students and faculty. On the Texas side of the Oklahoma border 13 Texas school districts closed for several days due to the outbreak.

  Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through the coughs and sneezes of infected individuals. Locker rooms, door handles, water fountains, lunchroom tables along with other surfaces and objects can also carry the virus. Touching your eyes, nose or mouth after touching a contaminated area can result in you coming down with the flu. Typically flu germs live for 48 hours but it’s continually keeping areas cleaned during the week that is one of the main ways to control the spread. The virus spreads quickly in the close proximity of people inside schools when you have a hundreds of students and faculty members opening and closing the same doors, drinking from the same fountains, riding school buses, using computers, etc.

  The CDC currently lists the outbreak in Texas as “widespread”. It was listed as widespread last week and is expected to be listed as widespread this week and next week.

  According to the CDC, “There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease almost every winter in the United States. The emergence of a new and very different influenza A virus to infect people can cause an influenza pandemic. Influenza type C infections generally cause a mild respiratory illness and are not thought to cause epidemics. Influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle and are not known to infect or cause illness in people.

  Influenza A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus: the hemagglutinin (H) and the neuraminidase (N). There are 18 different hemagglutinin subtypes and 11 different neuraminidase subtypes. (H1 through H18 and N1 through N11 respectively.)

  Influenza A viruses can be further broken down into different strains. Current subtypes of influenza A viruses found in people are influenza A (H1N1) and influenza A (H3N2) viruses. In the spring of 2009, a new influenza A (H1N1) virus emerged to cause illness in people. This virus was very different from the human influenza A (H1N1) viruses circulating at that time. The new virus caused the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years. That virus (often called “2009 H1N1”) has now replaced the H1N1 virus that was previously circulating in humans.

  Influenza B viruses are not divided into subtypes, but can be further broken down into lineages and strains. Currently circulating influenza B viruses belong to one of two lineages: B/Yamagata and B/Victoria. Influenza A (H1N1), A (H3N2), and one or two influenza B viruses (depending on the vaccine) are included in each year’s influenza vaccine. Getting a flu vaccine can protect against flu viruses that are the same or related to the viruses in the vaccine. (Information about this season’s vaccine can be found at CDC Website: Preventing Seasonal Flu with Vaccination.)   

  The seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against influenza C viruses. Additionally, flu vaccines will NOT protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that also can cause influenza-like symptoms. There are many other non-flu viruses that can result in influenza-like illness (ILI) that spread during flu season.”

  These are the current stats from the CDC:
Percentage of specimens positive for influenza by hospital laboratories;

Up .30% from the previous week.

Currently at 32.60%.

The previous week they were 32.30%.

  Another stat covers the outbreak. According to the CDC, “An outbreak is the occurrence of more cases of a disease than would normally be expected in a specific place or group of people over a given period of time.”
 The previous week there were 9 outbreaks reported. This week 14 outbreaks have been reported. This is an increase of 5 outbreaks.

  There has been one pediatric death from the current outbreak but it was not in this area. The CDC tracks the flu by various methods, including hospital laboratory reports.

  One information gathering method used by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is; “Pneumonia and Influenza (P&I) Mortality Surveillance.

 According to the DSHS, “The DSHS Vital Statistics Unit collects death certificate information for all deaths on Texas residents from various partners such as funeral homes and local registrars around the state. The death certificates are then sent to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) where the cause of death and underlying causes of death on the death certificates are coded with ICD-10 mortality codes. Once death certificates are coded, the information is sent back to DSHS Center for Health Statistics (CHS). CHS produces a Weekly Pneumonia and Influenza (P&I) Death Report and sends it to the State Influenza Surveillance Coordinator for inclusion in the Texas Weekly Flu Report. P&I deaths are identified based on ICD-10 multiple cause of death codes, and in particular, pneumonia and influenza mortality codes. Delays inherent in death reporting and coding practices may cause the number of reported P&I deaths to vary considerably each week.”

  The CDC has the Statewide ILINet Activity Indicator assigned by CDC (intensity of influenza-like illness) at “High”.

  Influenza A and B are not the only viruses that you should be cognizant of because some viruses can give you flu-like symptoms but not actually be a flu virus. According to the CDC, “Influenza activity is increasing across the state of Texas. Compared to the previous week, the percentage of patient visits due to influenza-like illness (ILI) and the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza reported by hospital laboratories increased. One influenza-associated pediatric death was reported. Fourteen ILI/influenza-associated outbreaks were reported. In addition to flu, other respiratory viruses—especially rhinovirus/enterovirus—were detected in Texas during week 06.”

  What all of the numbers and other information mean are that you need to take precautions, especially in public areas such as schools, restaurants, offices, churches, etc., to prevent catching the virus. If you go to the doctor’s office with flu symptoms, wear one of the masks that are typically provided in the waiting rooms. If you have the flu, you don’t want to give it to someone else and if someone else has the flu, you don’t want to catch it.

The CDC has recommendations for preventative actions.

Everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs;

Try to avoid close contact with sick people. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.   The key to all of this is YOU. Follow the recommended preventative actions and above all, if you are sick or think that you might be sick, stay at home. But, if you must venture out, wear a surgical type mask.

  The influenza viruses and other viruses will eventually run their respective courses and this will be a memory by the time we set the clocks forward in Spring. But, it can be brought under control more quickly if everyone follows the recommendations and stays at home when sick.