The flu: It's everywhere and it's hard to track - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

The flu: It's everywhere and it's hard to track

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Tens of thousands of people die from the flu every year in the United States, but we don't know exactly how many. We also can't tell how many adults in East Texas have died from the flu because the illness isn't reported the way most diseases are.     

The pandemic strain of H1N1 that swept the nation in 2009 is back.

"This strain has hit earlier, it has hit more severely and it's definitely the predominant strain," explains Dr. Paul McGaha, the regional director for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There have been at least five flu deaths in Gregg County, according to one justice of the peace. More people in Smith County are hospitalized with the illness. However, tracking exactly how many people have it and have died from it isn't easy, because adult flu cases aren't reported to the state.

"We do conduct what we call, 'influenza surveillance.' We work with hospitals and we work with doctors' offices and we can do a statistical analysis of what's out there. By doing that we can tell if the flu is widespread or not. In Texas it's definitely widespread now," explains McGaha.

McGaha oversees 35 East Texas counties for state health services. He says Texas doesn't keep hard numbers on the flu because the illness is everywhere and it's always changing. Each year a new variety of the illness can surface.

"Unlike measles or tuberculosis where we have a case that's reported to the health department rapidly... there's so much of it that we'd be swallowed up in paperwork if that were the case," says McGaha.

McGaha says this year's influenza surveillance has revealed that younger people in their 20s and 30s are coming down with the flu. He says it's likely older people are escaping the disease because they've had more flu shots in their lifetime and have developed more immunity.

Some good news regarding the flu is that this year's flu shot does protect against H1N1, which is the most common strain of the illness this year. Flu medications, like Tamiflu, also treat that strain of the flu.     

It's not too late to get your flu shot if you haven't already. Some local pharmacies have run out of the vaccination, but the state says they should be ordering more. Other than that, prevention is simple - wash your hands often and, if you are about to cough, cough into your sleeve to avoid spreading germs.

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