McLennan County flu cases hit five-season peak

Story by Julia Vergara | Staff Writer, Video by Christina Soto

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District has reported a high number of flu cases than usual in the area throughout the month of December.

In just one week, the number of flu and flu-like cases rose from 338 to 1,041 for the week ending Dec. 15. The next week, ending Dec. 22, saw another increase, jumping to 1,541 cases.

It was not until the last week of December, ending Dec. 29, that the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District saw a decrease to 1,283 cases — a number that is still unusually high.

“For the past five seasons, this would be the highest peak that we’ve had,” Public Health Information Specialist for the City of Waco Kelly Craine said. “The last high peak that we had was the 2014-2015 season — that time went to almost 700 cases, but clearly we’ve gone even higher in these past two weeks with over a thousand cases.”

Since the beginning of this year’s flu season in October, there have been two flu-related deaths of individuals over 80 years old, Craine said.

Craine said the City of Waco receives the flu case numbers from a variety of sources throughout McLennan County, including physicians, hospitals, urgent care clinics, schools and nursing homes.

According to City of Waco press releases, flu season does not typically peak until January or February — meaning that there is a possibility flu case numbers will rise yet again this year.

The City of Waco monitors the number of flu cases weekly because the virus is difficult to predict, Craine said.

“We are hopeful that our peak is slowing down, but at any point, it could pop up again,” Craine said. “A lot of times you will see a bit of a drop when the holidays have come along because [for] one thing, school is out and so that slows down the process a lot. Now school is back in so we’ll have to see if there is a rise again.”

Craine said people need to be aware that there are many cases of the flu virus in the community, which increases one’s opportunity to be exposed to it.

The City of Waco’s main aspect and message is that preventing the flu is key, Craine said. Prevention methods include receiving the flu shot, washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.

According to the Medical Director of Baylor Health Services Dr. Sharon Stern, students, faculty and staff can receive the flu shot anytime between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the health center, located on the second floor of the McLane Student Life Center (SLC).

During the Fall 2017 semester, Baylor Health Services also offered several flu shot clinics in various locations around campus.

“We just want to be available for everybody who wants to get the flu vaccine,” Stern said.

Baylor Health Services typically orders 1,500 flu vaccines every year and by this January, they only had around 300 doses left, Stern said.

“We do pretty well,” Stern said. “But if you look at it — If we’re giving 1,500 flu shots a year and we have 17,000 students plus a couple of thousand faculty and staff, then you can see that’s less than ten percent. I’d like to see that get a lot higher.”

Craine said she often comes across individuals who say the flu shot does not work and her response is “It’s absolutely not going to work if you don’t use it. If it stays in the vial, it will not help you.”

Craine said that although the flu shot is not 100 percent effective, it does create a stronger immune response and lessens symptoms.

Stern said that from a public health standpoint, it is very important for Baylor to offer a convenient way for students, faculty and staff to receive the flu shot.

Getting the flu shot is protective for the entire community, Stern said. Some individuals who are not able to receive the vaccine themselves rely on others to protect them from the flu.

“The most important thing is that students, faculty and staff are welcome to come over and get their flu shots,” Stern said. “It is best if they can make an appointment, but they can try walking over and usually we can get them in pretty quickly but it’s just a nurse visit to get the flu vaccine.”

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