Remember how just a couple of weeks ago, flu activity in Texas had lightened somewhat? The warning back then was that it could easily and quickly worsen again, and it has, according to the latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The weekly influenza activity map shows Texas back in the red zone, the highest level of flu activity, along with all of our adjacent neighbors. Of course, this won’t surprised the parents of many school children. Multiple schools have been closed temporarily across Texas because large numbers of students were missing school as they fell sick with the flu. In addition to worrying about the numbers of students missing classes – in at least one case, close to a third of students were home sick – school officials felt compelled to put their campuses through an expensive cleaning operation to prevent more illness.
“The Lago Vista school district canceled Thursday and Friday classes at its four schools in northwestern Travis County because of an increasing number of students reporting flu symptoms,” the Austin Statesman reported Thursday. “Superintendent David Webb said only 84 percent of its 1,518 students attended classes this week, which is 13 percent lower than the typical attendance rate. When middle school attendance fell below 70 percent, Webb made the decision to close all the schools.”
Not only that, the more severe H3N2 strain of the virus is showing up more often right now.
If all students can be vaccinated against the flu had actually received it, this kind of scenario would be highly unlikely. Even though the flu vaccine doesn’t have the super-high effectiveness rate of, say, the measles vaccine, the students who would be protected by it would then not be spreading it to their classmates.
And Lago Vista was just one example. At least six other school districts were affected, the Statesman reported, and doctors also are seeing an upswing in cases overall in the state.
The Statesman reported:
Dr. Coburn Allen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Austin’s Dell Children’s Medical Center, said he thought the flu had peaked in late December, because emergency room doctors were seeing fewer people coming in with symptoms at the start of the year compared with around Christmas, when they saw a lot of flu activity.
That all changed this week, when people started pouring into the emergency room with symptoms, he said. Forty percent of rapid tests have come back positive for the virus, he said. Allen thinks that has to do with the spread of the H3N2 strain of the virus across the southeastern United States in recent weeks. He said doctors had been primarily seeing the less severe H1N1 strain but that began to change this week, when H3N2 started popping up.
“That’s probably why we are busy again right now,” Allen said. “I bet the second wave is heading this way.”
People who have been lucky enough to avoid the flu so far can still improve their chances of avoiding it this season with a flu vaccine. By doing so, they also help protect vulnerable people in their communities such as babies younger than 6 months, who cannot be vaccinated, or elderly people, in whom the vaccine is often less effective.
It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, but even before then, if vaccinated people do get sick, they often will have a much milder case. And flu season could well be in full swing two or three or more weeks from now. Though January and February are often the most active times for the virus, the peak of flu season has been known to occur in March.
As the Statesman report shows, even some doctors were lulled into thinking the peak was over back in December.
It is not too late to be protected by the flu vaccine. Let’s not allow this disease, which kills thousands of people every year, to fool us into thinking we should forego the best protection we have against it.