Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Walgreens Flu Index, which at the time showed that seven of the 10 most active U.S. markets for the flu, at least by drugs prescribed, were right here in Texas. Since then, the state has made some improvement, with just three local markets remaining on the list. Nice! Except one problem: Dallas-Fort Worth has actually climbed during that period, from fourth-worst in the country to second-worst, slotted just behind Oklahoma City.
By the numbers, getting a grasp on where we stand within the evolution of this very bad flu season is difficult. DFW is merely earning a “high” rating from the Doctors Report Illness Tracker, as oppose to the 16 markets that qualify as “very high.” Couple that news with the decrease in recent weeks of local deaths attributed to the flu, and you figure we’re on the downslope. But then the ambulance service MedStar reports it’s going out on more trips related to the flu in February—nearly 20 per day—than it was last month—17.5 per day—and things once again look murky. Every time a flu metric shows hope that the season could be getting more tame, a dimmer data point appears.
So, I called Parkland Health and Hospital System to hear it from the people who are in charge of treating patients, not just compiling data about them. In this the 13th week of flu season, Parkland has yet to see a considerable drop in patient volumes. Overall this year, it’s tested 10,280 people for the flu, and confirmed almost 3,400 of them. Dr. Pranavi Sreeramoju, who oversees flu prevention and vaccination for the system, says they’ve seen twice the number of cases as compared even to higher flu activity seasons of the past.
The fact that this has been a Type A, H3N2 flu season helps to explain how bad it’s been. H3 is associated with higher incidents of complication, death, and pneumonia. Dallas County has seen 69 deaths, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services. That’s more than any of the last five years. A bad season in 2013-14 produced 55 deaths. There were just 16 last year.
Sreeramoju says we may just be getting toward the end of the peak, but it’s difficult to tell for sure. Flu seasons last between 11 and 20 weeks, so still being at this level 13 weeks in shows how much damage these strains are doing.
One thing that will prolong this flu season, Sreeramoju says, is that, lately, the number of type B diagnoses are on the rise. That means there’s potential for this season to go a lot longer than usual. And she introduces an idea that no one will like: “It’s possible we could see another peak.”