It started with a cough, but it wasn't long before Frisco resident Brynne Huffman's 7-year-old son, Andy, got a fever.
"The fever came 24 hours later, and it was high, like 103. He’s always run a little hot, but we couldn't get the fever down and make it stay down," she said. "He's tall for his age, and we were giving him an adult dosage of fever reducer. Then we made him take a cold shower, which was miserable. But nothing kept the fever down."
Huffman and her husband, Andrew Komonchak, took Andy to his pediatrician, where he tested positive for influenza — type A, to be specific.
"Seventy-two hours later, my husband came down with the same cough," Huffman said. "He got the brunt of it, poor guy. He was taking care of our son, and so that's probably why it hit him so bad."
A few days later, Huffman got sick. Only her daughter, 6-year-old Lucy, escaped one of the deadliest flu seasons to hit Denton County in years. As of Tuesday, 11 adults in Denton County has died from flu-related symptoms, and one child has died.
As of Feb. 1, officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services reported that more than 4,000 people have died of influenza and pneumonia across Texas, with the most recent report Friday. There have been six flu-related pediatric deaths, according to the report.
Flu deaths aren't reportable by law in Texas, the state department said, with numbers gathered from cases reported to public health officials.
Juan Rodriguez, the Denton County Public Health Assistant Director and chief epidemiologist, said every flu season is different.
"We don't know how bad the flu will be from one season to the next," he said. "We just don't know what to anticipate."
While influenza is active year-round, Rodriguez said, flu season starts in October and runs through May. Public health officials monitor flu activity during flu season, but don't study the disease throughout the year. Two strains have battered the country and Texas since last fall, and the respiratory disease has caused pneumonia among many adults.
Texans have groused about the effectiveness of the vaccine, which Rodriguez understands.
"It’s all very educated guess with the vaccine," he said. "The makers of the vaccine, they try to do the best they can. You have to start early when you decide what the vaccine is going to be. The vaccine for the next flu season is being decided right now. The longer you wait, the more it delays the creation of the vaccine. You want the vaccine available in the August-September window."
The vaccine composition is determined after flu centers all around the world investigate outbreaks of the virus. The investigations are reported to national disease centers in Atlanta, London, Australia, Japan and Beijing. Consultants from those centers meet in February to determine what composition of the vaccine will best protect people living in the northern hemisphere. They reconvene in September to decide which vaccine will best protect people living in the southern hemisphere.
Rodriguez said Denton County officials started to see a spike in flu cases in late November and early December. He said holiday travel helps spread the virus.
"That's when people — and families with children — travel and see a lot of people. If there are flu cases on the East or West Coast, when people start traveling during the holidays, you see it spread across the country," he said. "But you have to keep in mind that the flu is very unpredictable. You might have two peaks in one season."
Young children, elderly people and folks with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the virus, which is spread through the respiratory system.
Rodriguez said even though this year's vaccine hasn't been as effective, public health officials urge residents to get a flu shot.
"You can still get the flu if you get the shot, but you'll get a milder version and you won't get as sick. And it can keep you out of the hospital," he said.
Health officials recommend seeing your doctor if you show symptoms of the flu. Many clinics are automatically testing patients for the virus strains, but patients and parents can request their provider administer to the test.
For families with children, Rodriguez said vigilance and cleanliness are important.
"Keep the sick child in their room. Bring their food to them, and keep siblings out of there," he said. "And certainly clean high-touch surface areas — door nobs, tabletops, other areas where your family spends time together."
Rodriguez said children and adults who test positive for the flu should stay home.
"Keep the kids home from school and don't go to the office," he said. "You can shed the virus before you feel sick and then after you start feeling bad, and that can spread it."
Finally, Rodriguez said, antivirals — like Tamiflu — can ease symptoms.
"If you get sick, the antivirals will help. And a lot of people might not know that the antiviral can be prophylactic. If you have children, you can give antivirals to the child who is sick and to the sibling who isn't."
Huffman said her son's pediatrician told her to keep him home for the rest of the week, and prescribed antivirals for her and her daughter, Lucy. Her husband developed bronchitis and added steroids to the antiviral medicines.
"I think that's why I didn't get as sick and why Lucy didn't get sick at all," she said. "My son is in first grade, and at his school, at one point a third of the second grade class was out with the flu. A third."
Huffman said her family normally gets their flu shots — her son, like many kids, isn't fond of the doctor or vaccines — but chose not to last fall. Expense played a part in their decision, as did moving into another home.
"We’ll probably get it this year," Huffman said. "This is the first time my son has gotten the flu, and it's my husband’s first flu since college. Andrew started feeling better this weekend. It took him a good three weeks to get past it. It wasn't too fun."
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Muscle aches
Flu symptoms in children
- All of the above, with nausea and/or diarrhea in some cases. (Influenza is not caused by ingesting the virus through the gastrointestinal system. The virus is spread through contact with infected people or through inhalation of particles.)
How to avoid the flu
- Get the vaccine.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- Wash your hands.
- Limit your exposure to people with the flu.
Source: Denton County Public Health
FEATURED IMAGE: Denton County Health Department officials are encouraging the public to make flu shots a priority. Reports here and across the country have indicated earlier instances of influenza activity, and while this isn't likely to go down as the worst season ever, every flu season is a serious one. DMN file photo.