For adults, the flu can be a couple days of a low-grade fever, cough and general fatigue. But for children and the elderly, it can cause pneumonia, difficulty breathing and gastrointestinal issues that lead to hospitalization or even death.
Flu cases in the area this year are soaring, and doctors are working feverishly to keep up. They are urging people to get their flu shots.
Cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks, Dr. Laura Romano, pediatric hospitalist at Cook Children’s, said. As of Nov. 16, the centers are dealing with about 330 cases of the flu this week.
That makes it important that everyone over 6 months old get their flu vaccine annually, Romano said. This year is particularly bad for the flu, she said.
Not only are cases exploding at higher rates, but the season also came early this year.
Flu numbers by year at Cook Children’s
Flu A+B positives by season
2022-2023 (through Nov. 10): 679
“It’s put a strain on the hospital, especially on our emergency room and urgent cares who are seeing unprecedented numbers of patients right now,” Romano said. “But it also made it very difficult to predict what the rest of the season is going to look like.”
A lot of anxiety exists about the rest of the season, she said, because the high early numbers make it hard to determine when the peak will hit, how long that will last and whether there will be a second surge.
Doctors cite a few reasons for the spike, starting with the pandemic. During the previous two flu seasons, people still were wearing masks and not traveling or going out as much. Although those measures were to prevent COVID-19, they also helped decrease flu cases.
Another reason is more scientific. When vaccine experts make the latest flu shot, it’s based on the most recent strain in Southeast Asia, Romano said. That part of the world hasn’t let up on masking and other COVID-19 protocols, so there hasn’t been as much of a flu season there. Experts have had to guess more than usual what the flu season would be like.
Finally, Romano said, vaccine hesitancy is causing an uptick in cases.
“We’re having more and more parents decline getting the flu vaccine for their healthy babies, decline getting the flu vaccine for themselves,” Romano said. “So we’re having a lot more people not wearing a mask, maybe traveling more because we’ve lifted a lot of restrictions and we’re now spreading the flu around.”
Romano continued to stress getting the flu vaccine and getting the COVID-19 vaccine and booster. Babies can get extremely sick from the flu and Romano will never forget her time in medical school when she saw a family bring in a baby with the flu on Dec. 23. The baby died on Christmas Day.
“The best thing that parents can do to protect themselves and protect our children is to get the flu vaccine,” she said. “It is essential, especially this flu season.”
When does the flu mean hospitalization?
Romano said parents should look for signs of difficulty breathing as a reason to take their children to the doctor or hospital. Those signs include:
- Breathing faster than usual
- Their belly moving in and out
- Skin between the ribs being sucked in
- The collarbone being sucked in with every breath
If this is happening, Romano said, a child should be taken to the hospital right away. Parents and guardians also should monitor the child’s temperature, anything over 100.5 for two days should be seen.
A child also needs to be seen if there are signs of dehydration. Those include fewer tears for babies or a sunken spot on the soft spot of their heads, she said.
Mild symptoms like low-grade fevers, stuffy nose and no signs of stress or dehydration should be seen by a provider, not the hospital. The hospitals already are dealing with a lot of patients so it’s important to know the difference in who should be seen, Romano said.
What can parents and teachers do to prevent outbreaks?
Many students in a classroom together all day can mean a spread of germs, so Romano said parents and teachers can help kids learn good hand hygiene.
Teaching kids to cough into their elbows, wash their hands before and after touching common surfaces or time sharing toys and washing hands after sneezing and before eating is all important, she said.
“My 4-year-old right now is trying to lecture my 2-year-old about coughing into her elbow,” she said. “He’s really trying.”
Looking for more information?
Visit this link on Fort Worth ISD’s website.
One of the most important things parents can do to help decrease the flu outbreak is keep kids home if they’re not feeling well, Romano said. Children should stay home even if they don’t have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
“I know that is easier said than done. My husband and I both work full-time jobs. We do not have family in Texas. We rely on daycare for childcare. And it’s difficult when our kids are sick because one of us always has to take time off of work,” she said. “I know it’s not an easy decision for a lot of people, it’s not an easy financial decision to have to make. But please, if at all possible, please, please, please keep them home if they’re sick.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.