Widespread flu cases across Texas

HOUSTON That's an official classification, meaning there have been reports of an increase in flu-like illnesses and cases across at least half of the state. That has hospitals changing the way they deal with the increased number of flu patients.

At this time, Houston hospitals are seeing an increase in people coming in with flu-like symptoms, but they told us it's nothing they can't handle.

One hospital is having a higher than average number of patients. Texas Children's Hospital is seeing 50 percent more people in the emergency room, in the neighborhood of 300 per day. They set up a booth called the Emergency Center Assessment with a table where they're asking five questions to determine if the child is likely to have the flu.

If so, they're separating those children into another area, a clinic called the ILI clinic which stands for influenza-like illness.

"The illness is significant and the volumes are significant and unexpected for this time of year," said Dr. Joan Shook, TCH Chief of Emergency Services. "We are really good at disaster management planning at this hospital, so I feel like we're accommodating to the strain very well."

Dr. Shook said Texas Children's Hospital is following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, so they are not giving the flu test to people who simply come to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, nor are they giving Tamiflu unless a child is very ill or has unusual symptoms like seizures or difficulty breathing.

If a child has mild symptoms and parents know it's the flu, they are asking parents to follow the CDC guidelines and try to treat their child at home.

Increased cases in Austin

They're also seeing a spike in flu cases in Austin. The tents went up Tuesday and doctors treated 45 children in seven hours. As you can see out here, they are hoping to move them through quickly.

With double the patients coming thru Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, tents were pitched to streamline the staggering number of children with swine flu.

"We've seen some severely ill children," said Dr. Pat Crocker Chief of Emergency Medicine.

This is no panicked reaction. Dr. Crocker says two-thirds of children coming thru these tents are testing positive for H1N1.

"The vast majority of patients we're seeing are those who are actually in a high risk group and a candidate for Tamiflu," said Dr. Crocker.

Doctors attribute this week's staggering surge to the start of school. Austin ISD wouldn't tell us how many students are out sick with the flu. A spokesperson would only say that they have more than 100 campuses in the district and no campus currently exceeds the normal absentee rate of 10 percent.

Dr. Crocker expects swine flu numbers to peak in another two to four weeks, meaning these tents could stay put for months to come.

"We just don't know how many patients we're going to be treating," he said.

Fifty children have been admitted to this hospital in the last week.

Doctors told us if you have a sick child at home, keep them away from the rest of the family, teach them to cough into their elbows and to wash their hands before touching their face.


Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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