A nurse swabs Maria Morales’ upper right arm with alcohol. Picking up a syringe, the nurse tells the Little Elm resident that she may feel a little pinch. Within seconds it’s done and Morales smiles.
“That was fast,” she said.
Morales was one of more than a dozen people who had visited a Denton County Health Department clinic by Friday afternoon for a free flu shot. Officials with the department said that within the last week they’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming to health department clinics for flu shots.
“I don’t want to get sick,” Morales said. “I have four children, so I have to stay healthy.”
All four children have received flu shots.
Denton County is experiencing increased flu activity this week as the rate of flu infections in Texas has climbed to among the highest in the nation.
Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for the health department, said there’s been an increase in positive flu test results reported voluntarily by county hospitals, schools and emergency rooms in recent weeks.
“As of last week, we had 50 positive tests,” she said. “About a month ago, it was two.”
There have been no flu-related deaths in Denton County, but the virulent H1N1 form of the illness claimed the life of a Houston teenager and 12 others in the Houston area.
The state doesn’t keep a tally of adult deaths, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Texas as one of six states with “high” activity of influenza-like illnesses.
“It’s been picking up the last couple weeks,” said Juan Rodriguez, chief epidemiologist for the county health department. “We’re starting to see an increase in activity, and it’s definitely going to continue for several weeks to come.”
According to Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, flu is widespread in the state but it’s not unusual considering that it is flu season.
“We are seeing high levels of influenza in every region of the state,” she said.
According to the CDC, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi experienced high levels of flu for the week of Dec. 15-21 and Texas was among 10 states the same week reporting widespread influenza activity.
Nationwide, the CDC has reported four pediatric deaths associated with flu for the 2013-14 season.
Of the Denton County cases reported, about 95 percent have been “flu A,” which is H1N1, also know as swine flu, Rodriguez said.
The vaccine the county is using this year is “a very good match” for the circulating flu strains, he said.
The health department reported earlier this month that free vaccines were being made available at county health clinics for those able to be immunized and included the new quadrivalent shot and a high-dose flu shot that’s specifically made for residents 65 and older.
Rodriguez said the county typically sees a peak in flu in late January and through February. Seasonal flu typically runs from October to May, he said.
Officials with the health department urge people who have not been vaccinated to do so but to call the clinic first to check on the wait time.
McKinney said that once a shot is administered, it could take about two weeks before it is effective.
“We still have plenty of vaccine, but I would say if you haven’t already received your shot ... definitely come in and get it,” she said. “It’s definitely not too late.”
This article contains material from The Associated Press.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.
Tips for preventing flu
To help prevent the spread of germs, wash hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hands can’t be washed.
Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.
Cover mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing. People are encouraged to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crease of their elbow.
Stay home and avoid public places when feeling sick.
Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
Practice good health habits.
Source: Denton County Health Department