This year's flu season is already shaping up to be a very active one in Houston and in Texas. New figures from local hospitals show that nearly 900 people have been hospitalized in the Houston area for flu-like symptoms during December, with more than 100 of those cases requiring intensive treatment. "Right now, we are seeing high levels of the flu in every region of the state," says Carrie Williams with the Texas Department of Health Services. She tells KTRH that while this season is active so far, the numbers are not out of the ordinary for this time of year. The flu season begins in the fall and runs through the spring, but tends to peak in January and February.
Of particular note this year in the Houston area and in Texas has been the spike in cases of the H1N1 virus, previously known as the swine flu. "H1N1 is the most commonly circulating flu strain so far this season," says Williams. At least four deaths in Harris County have been attributed to H1N1 this season, with tests still pending on four deaths in Montgomery County. The H1N1 outbreak in 2009-2010 caused more than 200 deaths in Texas and hundreds more around the country, but the virus is now treatable with the standard flu vaccine. Williams notes that while H1N1 tends to get more attention, any strain of influenza is potentially dangerous. "It's not unexpected to see flu illnesses or deaths," she says. "Flu can be a deadly illness, it kills thousands of people every year nationwide."
Health experts agree that the best defenses against the flu are the most basic ones. "We want everyone to go get your flu shot now, if you haven't already," says Williams. "Also, we want people to cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you're sick, and wash your hands with open water." Flu shots are available to anyone over six months old, but they are especially recommended for children and the elderly. In fact, those over 65 are advised to get a double or "extra-strength" vaccine to protect against the disease.