HOUSTON (AP) — Texas health officials have issued new guidelines for treating flu patients after the spreading illness has left at least five people dead.
Test results returned Friday showed the cause of death for three men, ages 45, 50 and 53, was the H1N1 influenza virus, Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences told the Houston Chronicle.
Two of the three had significant underlying health conditions including hypertensive cardiovascular disease and obesity, Bentley said.
One man died Nov. 28, another died the next day and the last man died on Dec. 9.
Two people who died this week at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview had the H1N1 virus, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.
"It is not uncommon to see a few people with deaths from the flu each year," George Roberts, chief executive officer of the health district, told the Longview News-Journal. Roberts urged people to get flu vaccinations and take preventive measures such as washing hands and cleaning surfaces.
In nearby Conroe, officials have reported two cases of swine flu in patients who are being treated, and they are still waiting on test results to determine if four recent deaths can be attributed to the flu strain, also known as the H1N1 virus.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Friday asked doctors to prescribe antiviral treatments for patients with flu-like symptoms, even if initial tests come back negative. The agency said a negative result does not exclude a diagnosis of flu in a patient with suspected illness.
State health officials say that the level of flu-like illness is currently classified as "high" in Texas, although recent increases in flu activity are not unusual. This year's flu vaccine includes protection against the most common flu strains, including H1N1.
"Flu is on the rise and causing severe illness in certain people. It is not unexpected this time of year, but it's a good reminder for people to get vaccinated and stay home if they're sick," said Dr. David Lakey, the state health department's commissioner. "Flu can be deadly. People who have not been vaccinated should do so now. It's the best defense we have," he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In Harris County, where Houston is located, hospital emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms are at a five-year high.
The Montgomery County Public Health District in Conroe, located about 40 miles north of Houston, reported on its website that there are two confirmed swine flu cases in the county that it is currently treating. Officials are still investigating what sickened six others, including four individuals who died.
Department of State Health Services: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us