On the latest map, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only California and Mississippi are holding the brown flood at bay.
In a separate map showing the intensity of the flu, Texas ranks in the highest level.
Effects of that level are in evidence in Beeville.
• Four hundred and seventy Beeville Independent School District students – 14 percent of the enrollment – stayed home from school Tuesday.
• The number of people testing positive for the flu at the Christus Spohn Hospital emergency room climbed 185 percent in six days.
• Many of those patients call 911 to get to the hospital; the Angel Care Ambulance Service reports an increase in medical responses to the emergency room for callers with fever and other flu symptoms.
• Responding to the widespread number of flu cases, the hospital is asking no one under the age of 14 to visit the hospital and requiring anyone visiting the hospital who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms to wear a mask.
The developments accompany warnings for the public to get flu shots.
At Monday’s Bee County Commissioners Court meeting, Laurie Burke, the president and chief financial officer of Verity National — which operates a health plan used by a majority of county employees — told the court that while her company offers free flu shots from H-E-B to every person on the plan, out of 197 eligible employees only two had taken the shots.
But even if they now decided to get the shots, H-E-B is out of the vaccine. So is Walgreens. Both are advising potential customers to check each day to see if new serum has arrived.
Walmart conducted flu shot clinics two months ago but is not planning any further clinics.
Flu shots are available from the County Health Clinic. They are free to those on Medicare; others pay $20.
The CDC says that while this year’s flu shots — 128 million taken nationwide so far — do not offer total protection against the current outbreak’s strain of flu, they do lessen the severity of the symptoms.
With the uncertainty about whether the outbreak has peaked, combined with the lack of vaccine, understandably the health community is shifting its focus to prevention.
“People need to adopt safety habits,” says Kimberly Montgomery, the infection prevention director at Christus Spohn.
“No handshakes, no hugging, no kissing — you know, the things that South Texans like to do.”
And, washing hands frequently with a cleaner that contains at least 63 percent alcohol.
“Think of all the places where your hands might come in contact with someone who already has the flu,” Montgomery says. “The post office, every door knob or handle you touch, grocery carts, at the movies.
“This outbreak hit so early,” she says, “we’re not sure what this means.”
Data collected by the Texas Department of State Health Services —once known by the simpler name of the Texas Health Department — shows the current outbreak began in late October and continued to climb through the first week of January.
An early warning sign for the area occurred just before the Christmas holidays when a full 50 percent of the students in Woodsboro, southwest of Refugio, were absent from class with flu symptoms.
Because the flu is caused by a virus, the CDC says that doctors can do very little except to try to make the patient more comfortable while the immune system does its work.
Recommendations by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are all too familiar:
• Get plenty of rest
• Drink lots of liquids
• Take acetaminophen (aspirin) to relieve aches, pains and fever
• Not included is a practice seeing added emphasis: Stay home from work or school to prevent infecting others.
CDC studies show that a healthy adult is capable of passing along the flu from one day before symptoms appear to five days after.
Many area doctors recommend a person quarantine themselves for seven days after diagnosis.
In addition, Christus Spohn has posted signs throughout the hospital with the warning to cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, because the flu virus also is easily spread through the air as well as by direct contact.
Because this outbreak occurred so early, some health analysts are advising everyone still to get a flu shot — when they become available — warning that the early outbreak could mean a second wave later this year.