Flu vaccine in short supply as casualty count mounts

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 6:48 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 14 at 7:00 PM

DALLAS — Demand for flu vaccine is so great that Dallas County has had to shut down the Jefferson vaccination clinic in Oak Cliff.

"We're going to close down maybe one or two clinics to collapse our resources and to be able to maintain our inventory," Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson explained.

Dallas County reports 26 flu deaths so far this season.

In Tarrant County, three more flu deaths were reported on Tuesday, bringing the total to five.

"We've had one in their 30s, two in their 40s, and two above 70 years of age," Tarrant County chief epidemiologist Russell Jones said, adding that all but one of those victims had underlying medical conditions.

"One person was vaccinated; however had several co-morbidities and was a very ill person to begin with," Jones added.

When questioned by Tarrant County Commissioners about why Dallas County has had so many more flu deaths, Jones admitted Dallas County has a better tracking system.

Dallas County gathers data from 18 area hospitals. It also performs rapid flu tests for the Dallas County Medical Examiner's office.

In prior years, the medical examiner sent flu tests to an outside laboratory, which meant results weren't available for days or weeks. The combination of current hospital and medical examiner numbers has led to more accurate reporting.

"When they get those reports, it's a better system," Jones said. "What we're getting to us is what the facilities voluntarily report to us."

Tarrant County relies on hospitals to report flu deaths. The Centers for Disease Control only requires pediatric flu deaths to be reported to area and state health departments.

"To be honest, we can look to Dallas County to see how severe it [flu] is," Jones said, adding that Tarrant County will work to enhance its surveillance system next season.

But influenza isn't the only public health concern. Both Tarrant and Dallas counties have seen a sharp rise in RSV hospitalizations.

In most people, the RSV virus is like a cold. For infants, it can be potentially deadly.

"I was scared we were going to lose her," said Whitney Brown, whose two-month-old daughter Serenity was admitted to the hospital with RSV.

"She was going purple in the face; she was going cold," Brown recalled. "It was scary."

Health authorities are closely following the numbers to determine if the flu outbreak has peaked. Influenza cases typically peak in January or February.

Even after that, hospitalizations and deaths rise for two or more weeks afterwards as patients experience more serious side effects.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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