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Health agency encourages flu shots

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

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.

A 17-year-old Flower Mound teen died over the holidays from a case of flu that turned into pneumonia and a staph infection.

Max Schwolert was visiting relatives in Wisconsin when he fell illChristmas Day and was hospitalized, according to WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reports. Four days later, he died.

The teen was a healthy athlete who played basketball in a church league and played golf with his team at Marcus High School.

The teen’s death has sparked Flower Mound residents to get their flu shots and advocate for the preventive vaccine.

In a Facebook query Wednesday, more than 40 people from across the county — ranging from Sanger and Krum to Lewisville and in between — reported flu-like symptoms for not only one, but in many cases, numerous family members.

“It’s looking pretty lively,” said Bing Burton, Denton County Health Department director. “And we would certainly encourage people that if they have not had their flu vaccine, to get it right away. The vaccine this year seems to be very effective against the influenza virus circulating.”

Typically, flu season peaks in late January to early February, but Burton said the county was on course for an earlier peak this year.

Courtney Kennedy, community development manager at Denton Regional Medical Center, said the hospital emergency room has seen an increase in patients with flu-like symptoms compared to last year, and the cases of positive flu tests are up now compared to the beginning of December.

Juan Rodriguez, the health department’s chief epidemiologist, said influenza is not a reportable condition in Texas, which means that there can be thousands of cases that the health department does not know about. According to the latest report, which is from week 50 of the year for Denton County, there were 86 positive influenza tests reported to the health department, the majority of them being influenza A.

In a recent December media conference call, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that this season is the earliest regular flu season the country has had in nearly a decade.

Melinda Wharton, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reported that vaccination coverage estimates released in December show that for the entire population, about 37 percent of people 6 months of age and older have been vaccinated.

Coverage is a little higher among children — an estimated 40 percent — and an estimated 35 percent of adults have been vaccinated.

“Now, we are still in the season. Influenza vaccination is continuing and our expectation is that as the season progresses, that coverage will rise,” Wharton reported. “And last year, it went from — it was 48 percent by end of the influenza season for the general population, 6 months of age and older.”

Coverage has always been the highest by age group among people 65 years of age and older. Thomas Freidan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that about 80 percent to 90 percent of health care workers, pharmacists and doctors have already been vaccinated this season.

There is no shortage of places to get vaccinated in Denton County, be it the health department, where officials have some vaccines available, or local pharmacies or the Health Services of North Texas community clinic.

“Every year, we have fatalities from flu. There are about 30,000 deaths annually,” Burton said. “We could prevent a lot of that if people would just get the vaccine.”

The Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6889. His e-mail address is .