Flu cases see early spike in Central Texas

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by TINA SHIVELY / KVUE News and Photojournalist KENNETH NULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @TinaS_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on December 24, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 10 at 4:09 PM

AUSTIN -- The number of flu cases in the Austin area is on the rise, reaching levels not usually seen until later in the season.

Doctors say if you haven't had your flu shot, now is the time to get one.

Nearly 3 years ago, Cynthia Short was about to have her third child, when she could tell something wasn't right.

"I went to an urgent care facility and my heart rate was very elevated," she said. "They were very concerned and sent me straight to the ER."

Short had an emergency C-section. "Doctor Weingarten basically told my husband that the last resort was to put me on the ECMO machine, and that there were no guarantees to prepare for the worst," she added.

Short had to wait 4 weeks to meet her newborn daughter, Savannah.

The extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO Machine provides respiratory support for patients with severely damaged lungs.

Right now, 5 patients at Seton Medical Center Austin need the ECMO to survive. Like Short, they all chose not to get their flu shot.

"The vast majority of those that are getting sick are the unimmunized patients", said Dr. Irfan Hydari. He is the head of Seton's Emergency Department.

On Monday, he and his colleagues revealed that two weeks ago, 172 people tested positive for the flu in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. Last week, that number was up to 414.

In an average season, doctors see case numbers climb after New Year's when families return home from holiday travel. This season is off to a different start. The most recent data from the CDC shows Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are reporting high flu activity. That's no reason to panic, Dr. Hydari says. This year's vaccine is very effective.

"You still have time. It takes about 2 weeks and we're still at the beginning of the season, so it's a good idea if you haven't gotten it yet, to get it." Short agrees. "All I wanted to do was go home to my baby, but I couldn't because I wasn't healthy and I wasn't strong, I couldn't take care of her. Its not worth it, get the flu shot."

For more tips on avoiding the flu, go here.

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