Flu activity has increased in Travis County with local hospitals and clinics reporting 41.4 percent of tested cases as positive, according to a report released by Austin Public Health Dec. 23.
This is an over twofold increase from the cases reported two weeks prior, Austin Public Health said. There have been six outbreaks reported at long-term care facilities and three flu-associated deaths among Travis County residents. None of those deaths involved children, the report stated.
Statewide, the frequency of patient visits due to flu-like illness has increased to over 14 percent, the report said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three types of influenza viruses: Influenza A, Influenza B and Influenza C. Influenza A and B are the two primary types routinely spread in humans and are what cause seasonal flu epidemics. Influenza C viruses cause only mild respiratory infections and are not thought by the CDC to be responsible for epidemics.
In Texas, the predominant virus type identified is type A, but both type A and B are circulating.
“We’ve seen, definitely in the last couple of weeks, a significant increase, locally as well as statewide,” Dr. Phil Huang, health authority and medical director for Austin Public Health said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of emergency department visits with influenza-like illness as well.”
Huang said the best way to protect yourself from the flu is with a flu vaccine. Children six months of age or older who are uninsured and adults who are uninsured or on Medicare can receive free flu shots at Austin Public Health’s two immunization clinics located at 405 W. Stassney Lane, Austin, and 7500 Blessing Ave., Austin. Vaccines are also available at local drug and grocery stores and most insurance companies cover the cost, Huang said.
“Getting a flu shot is very important,” Huang said. “Most of the vaccines have four different strains [they protect against]. A majority of what we are seeing is H3N2 [Influenza A] but we are seeing the other strains circulating in the community.”
Here are a few other tips to help stop the spread of the flu:
- Stay home if you are sick
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid others who are sick
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or into a tissue
“We are worried about it being a bad season,” Huang said. “It is a little earlier than we typically see [a flu increase]and definitely more than we’ve seen in the last couple of years. The circulating strain can cause more severe illnesses, so everyone should get their flu shot and practice those other preventive efforts.”
To schedule a flu shot appointment at Austin Public Health’s clinics, call 512-972-5520.