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East Texas tops U.S. with flu cases

Longview News-Journal - 12/29/2017

East Texas and the state have fallen deep into flu season, with reports showing this area has some of the highest levels of flu activity in the country.

A Walgreens index shows the Longview-Tyler area leads the nation in flu activity, based on prescription data from the company's pharmacies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also reports Texas is among states with the highest level of flu-like illness activity.

"There's still (flu) shots available, so even though there's some talk about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the shot this year, you still need to get it," said Shawn Sams, pharmacist with Louis Morgan Drugs No. 4 in Longview, adding that the vaccine helps decrease the severity of the illness even if a person contracts flu after receiving it. "We're really trying to keep people out of the hospital. I'd say get out and get it. It's not too late."

At least one local hospital previously reported concerns there might be a shortage of Tamiflu - one of the antiviral medications used to treat, but not cure, the illness. Sams said, however, that it might have been more of an issue of some pharmacies not being prepared when flu hit the area.

"Really, what happened is, it just caught people off guard more than anything," he said of the flu's arrival in this area. Some medical professionals have said flu activity started increasing in this area weeks earlier than normal.

Sams said independent pharmacies, such as his, are able to order more frequently than some corporate pharmacies.

Corporate pharmacies, however, might take some time to redirect resources as they see which areas of the country need the medication more.

Louis Morgan ordered more Tamiflu when flu activity began to increase, he said, and he said there doesn't appear to be any issues with people obtaining the medication.

"We still have plenty of it," Sams said.

Walgreens also said it has not had an issue.

"Throughout the current flu season, we've been able to meet the demand for antiviral medications in the area, even with the increased flu activity," a company spokesperson said.

Longview hospital officials wouldn't discuss whether wait times in their emergency rooms had been affected by patients reporting flu-like illnesses, but acknowledged that the CDC is reporting widespread flu activity in Texas, with one of the highest levels of flu in the country.

Longview Regional Medical Center said its emergency room had tested 1,864 patients for influenza since November, with 468 of those showing positive results.

Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center reported that, because of the level of flu activity in the area, it has placed additional staff in its emergency rooms.

Dr. Lewis Browne, Gregg County health authority, said the county health office, which serves indigent patients, has seen an increase in flu cases but hasn't been inundated.

"We're seeing more of the bronchitis in the office," he said, which is what can happen when people wait too long to see a doctor when they have the flu. Some people might be going straight to the emergency room.

"We're on track just like normal at this time of year," he said.

Tamiflu is the only antiviral medication that works for Type A and Type B flu viruses, he said, with Type A being the kind the county health office is seeing most often.

He cautioned against using the antiviral medication too often as a preventative against the flu because of concerns about the development of a drug resistance.

"If you think you've got the flu, don't go out and spread it to people," he said, adding that it's important for people taking Tamiflu to "let the medicine work."

"Try to stay in and rest," Browne said.

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