Influenza is so rampant in North Texas that Dallas Methodist Hospital is actually having to turn away patients with non-severe cases of the illness. While Denton County hasn’t seen quite that volume of hospitalizations, Denton County Public Health chief epidemiologist Juan Rodriguez said the uptick in cases is still noticeable and noticeably early.
“We definitely saw a large increase in the last couple of weeks here in Denton County, much more so than the previous year and earlier than previous years too,” Rodriguez said. “We usually say over and over again that the season would peak around the fifth or sixth week of the year, so in early February.”
National media outlets are reporting that the flu virus is less effective than usual this year, which could be a cause of the severe season. Rodriguez explained that this can happen because the influenza virus is constantly evolving, presenting a moving target for vaccine makers. “Every spring, we try to guess what strains are going to be in the environment, so six months before anybody really is getting ready for flu, we’re guessing from the Southern Hemisphere what’s going to happen in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said. “They push those out in the fall hoping it’s a good match.”
Rodriguez said this year’s strain has a much more H3N2 influenza than H1N1 influenza. Both of those are subsets of the influenza A virus, which is distinct from the influenza B virus, and there are meaningful differences between all of these variations, both from a treatment and patient perspective.
Rodriguez said H3N2 influenza disproportionately affects the elderly, and encouraged older residents to be careful.
Rodriguez said that even if the vaccine is weak this year, vaccinating is still the most important thing county residents can do to avoid getting sick and mitigate the illness if they do get sick.
“Even if it’s not a good match and even if you do get sick, you have a milder version of the disease, so hopefully you don’t have to be hospitalized … and you may not expire,” he said. “It’s always important to still get your vaccine.”
In addition to vaccination, public information officer Alexandra Reed said consistent hand washing and staying home if you are sick are the keys to preventing the virus’ spread.
On social media, Medical City Lewisville educated the public on how to differentiate between the common cold, also normal in the winter weather, and the more serious flu virus. Both are indicated by coughing and a runny nose, but the flu is separated by headaches, chills, a possible fever and extreme fatigue. In addition to the main prevention tactics, the hospital advised easing symptoms with over-the-counter medication and drinking a lot of water.
Lewisville Texans can find their local vaccine at vaccinefinder.org. The Denton County Public Health department offers low-cost immunizations to those who qualify. The Lewisville clinic, on 401 N. Valley Parkway, can be reached at 972-434-4700.