Nine deaths from influenza in Travis County this flu season represent just one measure of how severe the season has been.
Dr. Phil Huang, Medical Director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, notes that cases started showing up earlier in the season, toward the end of 2013, and that patients under the age of 60 were among the most severely affected.
"Definitely what we're seeing is worse than what we've seen in some past seasons," Dr. Huang said, "and also the population that's being affected with some of the more severe illness is a younger population than what we were seeing."
He says that is typical of the H1N1 strain of the flu. Unlike the 2009 season, when the strain also known as "Swine Flu" was blamed for nine Travis County deaths, H1N1 is now covered by the currently available flu vaccine.
Six of the nine people in Travis County whose deaths this season are blamed on the flu have been under age 60. The ninth was the county's first pediatric death of the season. Dr. Huang said the patient had underlying conditions, which were not specified.
Dr. Huang says while everyone is susceptible to influenza, people in some groups are at greater risk.
“Things like pregnancy, severe obesity and then some other chronic conditions [including heart disease, asthma and diabetes], but anyone over six months should get the flu shot and also practice those other preventive measures,” Dr. Huang said.
Those other preventive measures include washing your hands, covering your cough or sneeze, not rubbing your eyes eyes, nose and mouth, and staying home if you’re sick.
Dr. Huang encourages everyone over the age of six months to be vaccinated against the flu.