Flu-like illness increases in Ector County

During the last part of January and early February, Ector County saw a large number of cases of flu-like illness, heard reports of deaths from flu east of Odessa and ran short of flu testing kits.

Health Department Director Gino Solla said the number has come down in the past week, but he would like to see if the pattern holds. Solla added that people should still get a flu shot through April and the health department still has a limited supply of free vaccines available.

As for the workplace, Solla said management should conduct a yearly pre-flu season employee meeting to reassure employees that the business has a culture where it’s OK for the employees to stay home if they are feeling ill.

Solla said employers should also conduct a quick course in proper hygienic practices while at work to avoid contamination, which can involve sneezing into your sleeve and/or Kleenex and throwing the tissue into a sanitary place.

Lysol should also be used on surfaces such as telephones, pens and desktops.

Solla recommends not sharing eating utensils or beverage containers, as well, and providing antimicrobial hand sanitizer at all work stations.

Employers also should discuss the cleaning methods their cleaning company uses to make sure they are using an effective sanitizing agent in sanitizing work areas.

Charlotte Carr, direction of infection, prevention and control at Medical Center Hospital, said seven deaths from flu were reported in Midland and none in Odessa. But the ones in Midland were 60 and above and had other co-morbidities.

“We look at our flu numbers every day,” Carr said. “We have been doing a comparison looking at our death report and our flu patients and so far we have not had a match. If they’re on our flu report, we compare it with our death report. We’ve not confirmed a death here. For the most part, the health department will look at pediatric deaths.”

Carr said there was a shortage of the kits used to test for flu, but that has been replenished.

She said there were definitely more patients with flu-like illness than expected this season and it is worse than the 2009 season with H1N1.

According to figures provided by the health department, there were 1,103 cases of flu-like illness during the week of Jan. 21 through Jan. 27. That shot up to 1,305 cases of influenza-like illness the week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.

“Our baseline for flu-like illness for the state of Texas is around 6.62 percent and we are at 29 percent (for Ector County),” Carr said Feb. 12.

Carr said health officials typically expect a peak of flu cases in late November to early-mid January, but then they start to taper off.

“So far, we have not seen a taper,” she said.

People may have had mild cases of the flu and not realized it thinking they were just run down after a long week or hard day, Carr said. It’s when it gets a little more severe that people may feel like they’ve been hit by a freight train.

The incubation period is generally 48 to 72 hours, Carr said. It could be less time for some and longer for others.

There are several ways people can get the flu, she said.

“You either walk through that cloud that somebody left behind and you’re breathing and there you go, or whatever they coughed out, spewed out or whatever and you’re here doing stuff and you don’t think about it your hands go up to your face, so you could be picking it up that way,” Carr said.

Carr advised people to wash their bedding, especially after experiencing a fever and tossing the toothbrush you used. Thermal cups — with and without straws — also should be washed.

“I see some people just refilling that. I can imagine if you were sick and you didn’t wash that and you picked it up and used it again, you could probably make yourself sick again,” she said.

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