HOUSTON – At least three people in Harris County have died from the H1N1 flu virus, according to the Harris County Health Department.
The Harris County patients were all men, ages 45, 50 and 53. Two of them had underlying health issues, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.
H1N1 is suspected in at least nine other deaths in eight regional hospitals, and that number is expected to grow quickly.
Four of those cases were at Conroe Regional Medical Center. Two patients that died in Beaumont likely had H1N1. We are waiting to learn the location of the other three deaths.
More than a dozen people have become critically ill from H1N1 in Harris, Montgomery and Jefferson counties, including four patients at Conroe Regional Medical Center.
The state health department issued an influenza health alert Friday and urged all Texans over the age of six months to get a flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective.
If you have flu-like symptoms, you should see your doctor within the first 48 hours so that you can be given Tamiflu.
Most of the flu cases seen in Texas so far have been identified as H1N1, which is included in this year’s vaccine.
It’s the same strain of H1N1 that caused a pandemic in 2009.
The CDC has already offered assistance on testing of the patients who have died and those who are critically ill. Its tests can offer valuable information.
"They can also look for differences in sub-type to see if there may be some subtle differences between the strains we're seeing now and the strains that we've seen before," said Dr. Mark Escot, the Montgomery County Health Director.
Those tests could go a long way in explaining why this strain seems to be more potent.
The illnesses started with flu-like symptoms, and then progressed to pneumonia and, in some cases, organ failure. All of the patients initially tested negative for the flu.
Doctors are being asked to use a more reliable, but costly and time-consuming test on patients who have flu-like symptoms.