Flu-like illness hits Ector County

Peak flu season is upon the community, but there have been few confirmed cases, Ector County Health Department and Medical Center Hospital providers said.
The number of people who were seen by health providers for influenza-like illness was 771 during the week of Dec. 23 through Dec. 29, information from the health department shows.
Of those 771, 103 tested positive with a rapid test. Eighteen percent of visits during that week were due to influenza-like illness, compared to the previous week when 13 percent were.
For Region 9-10 of the Department of State Health Services, which includes Ector County, a total of 13,775 people came in to see health providers. Of those, 16.15 percent of people came in for influenza-like illness during the week of Dec. 23 to Dec. 29 and 9.07 percent the week before.
Influenza-like illness is an illness that has not been confirmed by a flu test. The patient should have a fever over 100, cough or sore throat and no other known cause for the illness.
Ector County Health Department Director Gino Solla said the rapid test can determine whether the flu is type A or B strain.
“We’re spiking up earlier than last year. The number of people going in is a little bit ahead of the curve than last year,” Solla said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that really there’s more people being seen, it just means that there’s more reported people being seen for that.”
Charlotte Carr, director of infection prevention and control at Medical Center Hospital, said they have seen more influenza-like illness, but not a lot of confirmed cases of flu.
“We’re seeing a lot of people with flu-like symptoms. We do have the screening test. Some of those screens will come back positive, but not all. Definitely less than half the people who have symptoms are actually having flu, but maybe some other respiratory type things mixed in — allergies and other seasonal type colds, but not the actual flu,” Carr said.
Because there have not been a lot of confirmed flu cases, Carr said that would signal that the vaccine is working and she hopes that more people actually got the shot this year.
She said they are anticipating a spike.
“I think this time of the year — early January or so — there usually is a spike so yes. We anticipate it definitely could happen. We’ve had one kind couple of days of cold weather. Around that time we usually see a spike in flu, but we haven’t seen it. …,” Carr said.
She added that she would still recommend flu shots for people of all ages.
“We recommend if a person in a family gets the flu, very likely other members will get it. We recommend everyone in a household to get the flu vaccine,” Carr said. ‘
Even if you get the flu, it will be a milder case and won’t last as long if you get the vaccine, she said. Sometimes people don’t even know they’re sick.
If you get the flu, the best precaution is to stay home and don’t go around people; keep your hands clean; keep surfaces cleaned and wiped down; and don’t share utensils, Carr said.
She recommends following prevention measures diligently.
“Now that school is back, you think about all the kids back together. It’s just really important for teachers and everyone to keep the hand sanitizer available (and) … tissues available for kids and people to blow nose and throw it away, clean their hands and keep their areas clean,” Carr said. “That’s really important because the kids will take it to the parents; parents take it to their jobs. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Once you get the flu, you should stay home until you have gone a full day without a fever.
Flu season starts in early October and ends in late April or early May, he said, so there is still time to get a flu shot.
Solla added that you can get a flu shot any time of year.
“But we recommend that the citizens take advantage and get them as soon as they are available in the season. The reason for that is that it does take a couple of weeks for the immune system to respond and build memory cells to the strain of flu shots that are being given this year,” Solla said. “It doesn’t affect you right away. It takes some time for the body to notice the antigen and react to it.”
Being able to receive vaccines at pharmacies has helped reduce the incidence of flu, Solla said.
“This is not a scientific … answer. I think it’s helped a lot. I think if you look today the more accessibility you put out there, the more information, even if it’s a sign in the Walgreen parking lot saying free flu shots it reminds you” to get a vaccine, Solla said.
Health Department Epidemologist Amrinder Chahal said the peak flu season is December and January.
“We see the type A strain, which is the most prevalent strain. As we enter into February, we see the type B strain,” Chahal said.
The difference is in the structure.
“Type A (has) more variations. That’s why we see more cases of type A in the community in comparison to type B virus, which doesn’t show any variations. That’s why they make the flu vaccine every six months,” Chahal said.
Solla said the flu virus is always more active in the winter months. The Southern Hemisphere has winter when we have summer so that is used as guidance when making new vaccines.
“The flu efficacy will usually be in the middle of the season. They will hold a conference call with us and they will let us know what the preliminary flu efficacy numbers are. Probably we’re expecting that in February,” Chahal said.
The final assessment is issued at the end of flu season, he added.