The number of flu cases in the Houston area and across Texas continue to rise without an end in sight.
The Texas Department of State Health Services tells KHOU 11 News 13 percent of all reported doctor visits in the last week have been for influenza, up from the prior week.
One Montrose-based health organization says it saw 735 patients with the flu last month, compared to December 2016 when it saw only 34 patients with the flu.
“It’s definitely a more aggressive strain and more infectious,” said Dr. Anne Barnes, Legacy Community Health chief medical officer. “Because we’re seeing many more cases.”
Legacy treats patients regardless of their ability to pay and often treat those who have jobs that do not offer health insurance. Those same jobs likely do not offer paid sick time off, leaving a flu sufferer to choose between a paycheck and possibly infecting others at work.
Some Houston-area doctors are recommending those infected with the flu be isolated for four days until they are no longer contagious.
“We would recommend that they not be present at work,” Dr. Barnes said. “Now that’s a lot easier said than done. I would really encourage them to prevent getting sick with the flu.”
Several Texas school districts have resorted to closing schools to stop the spread of the influenza virus.
“It was more dangerous to send a child to school,” said Allison Winnike, president and CEO of the Immunization Partnership. “Where they were probably more likely to catch the flu than if they stayed at home.
Winnike says the best prevention for the spread of the virus is still the flu vaccine. She says everyone should get the vaccine, including children and says kids can start getting flu shots after they turn 6 months old.
“What is a common misconception is that healthy kids are not endangered by the flu,” said Dr. Stan Spinner,pediatrician and Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Urgent Care chief medical officer. “Indeed many of them are hospitalized and some of them unfortunately die. This current strain, the H3-N2, is a more difficult strain to manage. It doesn’t respond as well to the vaccination, and it tends to be more widely spread as a result of that.”
Four children have died in Texas this flu season as a result of the influenza virus.
A spokeswoman with the state health department says they do not believe this year’s strain of the virus is any more aggressive or contagious than others from years past. She says the complications resulting from the flu are more severe with this strain.
The Houston-area medical professionals who spoke with KHOU 11 News disagree. They say this season’s strain of the flu is different: more aggressive, more resistant and much more contagious.