Flu Season Ends

As the weather warms up the flu season dies down. This year it seems like it's been a light season, but as Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, it's actually been normal in comparison to years past.

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Despite relatively little talk of the flu situation, the Centers for Disease Control characterize Texas as one of 23 states with widespread flu activity. The season peaked during December and January and is now waning, but did cause a number of hospitalizations and some deaths. Dr. Flor Munoz is a pediatric infectious diseases physician with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

"Thinking about the previous years, especially the '03-'04 season where there was an early start and also high mortality in different types of populations, it's probably comparing to that that one might think that this was milder. But it actually seems more like a regular type of influenza season."

The flu strain this season also proved resistant to two common anti-viral medications. Both amantadine and rimantadine appear ineffective against the strain, which leaves doctors with a reduced arsenal of treatments. Munoz says there are newer drugs available, but this resistance to the older treatments is something the medical community will closely monitor.

"It certainly results in a limited number of options that one has to treat influenza. And of course, at this point, vaccination is going to be very important to try to prevent influenza. But once somebody falls ill with the illness, you want to try to provide the best treatment possible but the fact that they could be resistant again just limits our options in terms of treatment and decreasing spread."

The perception of a mild flu season can also lead to complacency about the risk of a flu pandemic. Dr. Luis Ostrosky is an assistant professor of epidemiology at U.T. Medical School and the director of epidemiology at Memorial Hermann Hospital. He says every season is different and there is no way to predict how severe it will be. There may never be another epidemic along the lines of what happened in the early 1900s, but institutions in the Texas Medical Center are preparing for the worst.

"You have contingency planning and what happens if people don't show up to work. You want supplies; you want to have the most people vaccinated possible; you have to have stockpiling of certain supplies at the institutional level; plans for what to do with traffic, with entrance; furlough policies for your employees; medical surg management. It's very complicated."

Seasonal flu leads to an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and about 4,000 Texans die of influenza every flu season. Physicians say regardless of the severity of the season, people should be vaccinated, especially the elderly and children. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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