Officials: Flu shots still available

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Despite a surge of flu cases in Denton County in recent weeks, flu shots are still available at local clinics but supplies are dwindling, health officials said.

Local hospitals are busier than usual with flu cases but are not reporting the overcrowding problems that have been reported by some hospitals in Dallas and Tarrant counties, local officials said.

Denton County reported its fourth flu death Wednesday, making this season’s death toll the highest since an outbreak of deadly swine flu hit North Texas in 2009. Officials are urging residents to get a flu shot and take other precautions to avoid becoming infected.

Exact numbers for 2009 were not available, but the county reported two deaths in the 2010-2011 season, none in 2011-2012 and three in 2012-2013. Flu seasons typically run from October to as late as May.

For the week ending Jan. 11, Denton County had 178 positive flu tests reported out of 932 tests performed.

“It really started coming on after Christmas,” said Patrick LaFontaine, nurse manager at the Denton Regional Urgent Care Center. “The day after Christmas we were in the 50s [in the number of patients]. The census was pretty steady at 20 patients a day. I would say we comfortably doubled the census the last few weeks.”

This is the first flu season since the care center has been open, so numbers may be higher in the future as more people come to know about the center, LaFontaine said.

“It’s kind of hard to judge if we are ahead or behind based on past experience,” he said. “Everybody is busy all around.”

The care center is out of flu vaccinations but is equipped to handle people who come in with the flu.

Flu vaccinations are still available from the Denton County Health Department, though spokeswoman Sarah McKinney said supplies are starting to run low.

At Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton, spokeswoman Melissa Smart noted the hospital emergency room had seen more than 50 patients with flu-like symptoms in the last few days.

The death of a 30-year-old Denton woman from the flu was reported Wednesday by county health officials. The woman had been vaccinated and had no underlying medical conditions, officials said.

County Health Director Bing Burton said officials believe that 95 percent of people who get a flu vaccine develop immunity to the disease, but not everyone does.

“We know not everyone develops immunity — not in a lab test, not ever,” Burton said. “It’s not surprising some people get the vaccine and still get sick. That is just an outgrowth of our human capacities.”

Texas is among the states identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a “high” outbreak of influenza. Most of the cases have been the H1N1 strain, also known as swine flu.

It’s still too early to tell how this flu season compares to previous years, officials said.

“The severity of the flu season varies year to year so it’s unpredictable,” said Christine Mann, spokeswoman with the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Some years will be relatively mild and some years we will see more flu.

“I think it’s too early to tell how severe this season is compared to others. I think once we get almost over with the season, we can evaluate that. We did see an increase in flu cases relatively early in the season, but sometimes that happens.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.

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