Tyler is seeing a large number of flu cases during the first week of 2018. (Metro Creative Graphics) 

Jeff Johnson of Tyler is miserable.

For the last few days he has been running a fever. He said he is achy “down to my toenails.”

It all started a few days ago when he didn’t feel so good and then within hours was hit with a 103-degree fever and what he thought was a sinus infection.

Johnson made an appointment with his doctor who confirmed his fears that he had the flu.

Johnson, a 53-year-old public relations professional, was given medication and sent home.

“The doctor told me to stay away from work for at least a week,” Johnson said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson was in bed and keeping away, as much as possible, from his daughter and wife.

“We are wiping everything down (with a sanitizer) like crazy,” he said of their efforts of trying not to spread the flu to his family.

Johnson is not alone in his battle with the flu.

Tyler is facing one of the largest outbreaks of flu in years.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Robert Creath, chief of emergency services at East Texas Medical Center.

Creath said this is the worst outbreak of flu that he has seen in 20 years “as far as numbers of people affected go.”

In the past week, ETMC Tyler has treated 236 people with the flu, said Rebecca Berkley, the hospital’s director of public relations.

During the same period, Christus Mother Frances Hospital - Tyler reported 85 flu cases and about 400 cases across all of its hospitals and clinics in Northeast Texas, said William Knous, the hospital system’s manager of communications.

Berkley said that at ETMC it is taking longer than usual for doctors to examine patients in the emergency room with flu symptoms and, when necessary, get them admitted into rooms.

“Please be patient as wait times are long in the emergency department,” she said.

Because of the large number of patients with flu-like symptoms Tyler hospitals have enacted a medical divert plan.

Ambulances transporting sick patients are alternating between the hospitals in part based on each hospital’s available beds and ability to see patients in its emergency room quickly, Creath said.

ETMC is near capacity in part because of an influx of flu patients, Creath said.

He is not aware of any patient in Tyler having to be diverted by ambulance to another city to receive treatment for the flu.

Tyler hospitals continue to take all walk-in patients in their emergency rooms, he said.

Patients with flu-like symptoms who are very old or young, have other health issues or are having difficulty breathing are given priority attention, he said.

East Texas is not the only area dealing with this. The flu is widespread across the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Texas Influenza Surveillance Report.

The national drug store chain Walgreens announced that since mid-December, the Tyler area has had one of the largest outbreaks of the flu in the nation.

It based its finding on the volume of prescriptions for antiviral medications used to treat the flu filled at its Tyler area stores compared to stores in other areas.

Walgreens’ most recent Flu Index dated Dec. 30 shows that Texas has the most flu activity in the nation, among markets with at least 10 Walgreens retail locations. 

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) anticipated that this would be a bad year for the flu and we have seen that,” said Terrence Ates, the public information officer for NET Health, the region’s public health district.

Flu season runs through March and people who have not yet had a flu shot should still get one, Ates said.

Vaccines are available at the district’s clinic, 815 N. Broadway Ave., for $25 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations are not needed.

Some people may qualify for free vaccines for children, he said.

It is important for pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with chronic health conditions to get a shot because they are at a higher risk of severe complications if they get the flu, according to a statement issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“It (the flu) spreads easily,” Ates said. “We are seeing cases of parents giving it to their kids and kids giving it to the rest of the family. We’re hearing of instances of it running through companies.”

People with the flu can spread it to others up to six feet away and can begin spreading it one day before they show symptoms and up to seven days after becoming sick, according to the CDC.

Ates said the health district recommends that to help halt the spread of flu, people should avoid those who are sick, wash their hands frequently with soap and water and disinfect surfaces.

Jennifer Cole, director of infection control at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System, said most people with flu symptoms do not require emergency care or hospitalization.

“Thankfully most people with the flu have mild illness,” she said. “If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.”

Those who are in a high-risk group, including the very old and young, and who are very sick should contact their health care provider, she said.

People should seek emergency care, she said, if they are having trouble breathing or have pressure in their chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, or symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and a worse cough.

“At the minimum, we tell every patient with the flu to stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone, without the use of fever-reducing medicine,” Cole said.

Flu patients should “rest, hydrate and stay away from others to keep from infecting them,” she said.

Danny Mogle has covered news in East Texas for decades. He currently focuses on arts, entertainment and human interest stories and serves as the editor of Lifestyles Magazine.

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