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Influenza and influenza-like illnesses are spreading across Texas and the Highland Lakes, ignoring seasonal patterns that are typically predictable. 

“It is cold and flu season, and that comes every year, but this year it is especially vicious,” said Dr. Kim Fehlis, a Marble Falls-area pediatrician.

Influenza-like illnesses refer to viruses that cause cold symptoms such as fever, congestion, chills, headache, body aches, nausea, and sore throat. 

Viral seasons are usually quite predictable, Fehlis told,

but this year has been erratic, with viruses hitting earlier in the year and spreading more rapidly. 

“We’re at that point where we’re overwhelming the hospital system,” she said. “It’s not anything crazy or new, just a lot worse right now.”

Flu season in Texas 2022
A Texas Department of State Health Services chart depicts a drastic increase in hospital admissions due to influenza-like Illnesses this year compared to the past three years. The department’s interim commissioner, Dr. Jennifer Shuford, explained that flu-like illnesses were incredibly low during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are now coming back in force. Courtesy image

Fehlis recounted a recent instance in which one of her young patients had to stay in an emergency room for three days before a hospital room became available.

Children are especially susceptible to RSV, and Fehlis explained that it can be difficult to determine when you should take a case seriously enough to seek medical attention for your child.

“From my perspective, I think it is important to avoid excessive trips to seek medical care,” she said. “This is a tricky thing because we don’t want to tell people not to go if they’re going to take that to an extreme, but there’s a lot of times where a cold is a normal thing for a kid or family and seeking care means exposing yourself to other viruses and exposing other people in the community to your illness. And there is not going to be a lot we can do about that.”

Fehlis laid out what to look for to determine if a flu-like illness has become dangerous: 

  • Measure blood oxygen levels if possible. If you see levels at 90 percent or lower for any amount of time, seek immediate medical attention. 
  • A child breathing fewer than 50 times a minute at rest can be a dangerous sign.
  • If a child’s skin is being sucked against their ribs during labored breathing, this can be a sign of serious respiratory distress.
  • If you are worried your child will have difficulty breathing through the night, that is also an indication you should seek medical attention.

Fehlis also listed at-home remedies that can help treat flu symptoms:

  • Honey can be used as a replacement for cough syrup for children and is just as effective and avoids unnecessary medication. (Honey should not be given to infants.)
  • Steamy showers can help break up mucus in the respiratory system.
  • Keep your head above heart level to help sinus drainage. 
  • Use saline rinses in the nose to help clear out mucus buildup. Small amounts of Ibuprofen can alleviate discomfort and soothe temperament in ill children.

Officials at the Texas Department of State Health Services held a media update webinar on Monday, Nov. 14, to discuss the current uptick in respiratory cases. While the severity of the ailments is not above average, the number of cases is well over the norm, according to DSHS reports.

2022 flu season in the US
A map from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that Texas, New York, and the U.S. Southeast are experiencing an exceptional number of influenza-like illnesses this year. Courtesy image

Recent outbreaks of regular illnesses like the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, and rhinovirus are because the general population wasn’t able to build up an immunity over the past two years due to precautions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to DSHS Interim Commissioner Dr. Jennifer Shuford. Wearing masks, washing hands, and staying 6 feet apart from each other helped control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 as well as outbreaks of flu and other viruses, thus preventing immunity buildup.

“We are currently experiencing high levels of flu and flu-like symptoms in Texas,” Dr. Shuford said in the DSHS media update. “And we are concerned about a more serious flu season.”

Data collected by the DSHS depicts a nearly 400 percent increase in hospital admissions for flu-like illnesses compared to this time last year in the state. The percentage of hospital visits due to influenza-like illnesses for the 2021-22 season sat at little over 2 percent last November but has already reached nearly 8 percent by the same time this year. The increase is even higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Dr. Shuford recommended getting the latest flu shot available to prevent serious illness and urged anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to stay home. 

“If you get the flu, even though you got a shot, the illness will be less hard on you,” she said. “This is especially important for people at higher risk for complications. Please go get your flu shot as soon as you can. It takes about two weeks for the antibodies to build up and protect you.”

1 thought on “‘Vicious’ flu season hits Highland Lakes

  1. Those cows do not look in any worse shape than the poor suffering cows in neighbor’s pasture adjoining our back yard. There must be at least six of them, plus a bull and a couple younger calves.
    I called to report them in years past, looking starved like “walking carcasses,” but nothing was ever done for them, (that I know of). They still sometimes wander by the back fence. They look better after a rain.

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