, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

December 27, 2013

Five dead from flu-like illnesses

PORT ARTHUR — One person from Orange County and another from Jefferson County are among five who have died recently from flu-like illnesses while patients at Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth in Beaumont.

Those who died range from ages 26 to 67, and all had pneumonia — a common complication of influenza.  

Test results have confirmed that two of the five tested positive for H1N1, the strain of flu also known as swine flu when it first surfaced in 2009. Those two are from Jasper and Bexar counties. The other three patients are from Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties, Sheri Ulmer, public health director with the Beaumont Health Department, said.

Beaumont’s health department is awaiting test results on a third patient, and the other two were not confirmed because no lab work was sent off because the testing lab was closed during the holidays, Ulmer said.

“H1N1 is not a new strain. Back in 2009 it was new, but since then it has been included in every flu shot since 2009,” Ulmer said.

Although flu season is entering peak months of January and February, and doctors offices, clinics and emergency rooms are filled with patients with flu-like illnesses, its not too late to get a flu shot. Those who have not are urged to —especially if they are elderly, immune-compromised, or, are children.

In Port Arthur, two patients with flu symptoms were admitted to Medical Center of Southeast Texas. Hospital personnel have sent off specimens to determine what type of flu those patients have, Judith Smith, Port Arthur Health Department director, said.

“What we are hearing is a lot of patients are presenting to the doctors offices and emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms,” Smith said.

Though not unusual for this time of year when the flu season begins to peak, Smith said it appears this year the flu outbreak may be more severe than last year at the same time.

At Port Arthur’s Gulf Coast Center, the number of patients seeking treatment for the flu has increased in recent days.

“Its definitely increased, the number of people coming in with flu-like illnesses. We are seeing lots with runny noses, coughing with fever,” Hina Khoja, family nurse practitioner with the Gulf Coast Center, said.

Both Gulf Coast Center and the Port Arthur’s health department are offering discounted prices for flu shots. Flu vaccines are also available at area doctors offices and some drug stores.

“Even though we are right in the middle of flu season, and it will take a body time to develop immunity, it is better to take it than not,” Smith said.

Flu season can run until late spring, and has the potential to spread when children go back to school.

In addition to getting a flu shot, Ulmer advised those who have flu-like symptoms to stay home, to not go to work. Children should be kept home from school if exhibiting flu symptoms.

According to the CDC, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can result in a mild to severe illness, and can lead to death. Though some of the symptoms are the same, the flu is different from a cold. Influenza typically comes on suddenly.

Anyone can get the flu, though certain people are at higher risk, including those people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

Most people suffering from influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complication as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems, such as asthma, worse.

While flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time flu activity peaks in January or later.

To combat the contagious respiratory illness, Port Arthur’s Health Department is offering the flu vaccine at a discounted price: $5 for adults 19 and older, and free to children 6 months to 18 years old.

Flu shots will be available at the health department from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. No appointments are necessary.

The Gulf Coast Center is also offering flu shots at a reduced rate, ranging from $5 to $15, depending on a patient’s income. The Gulf Coast Center, 2548 Memorial Blvd, Port Arthur, is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon.

Influenza Symptoms

    * Fever* or feeling feverish/chills

    * Cough

    * Sore throat

    * Runny or stuffy nose

    * Muscle or body aches

    * Headaches

    * Fatigue (tiredness)

    * Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

* It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Source: Center for Disease Control


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