Austin Public Health reports increased flu activity in Travis County

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Photo Credit: Emma Overholt | Daily Texan Staff

Austin Public Health reported a slight increase in Travis County flu activity in a memo Wednesday, and is directing residents to available resources for getting flu shots.

“It is not just about you,” Mark Escott, medical director for the city of Austin and Travis County, said in the memo. “It is about those around you who are at greater risk.”

According to the memo, Influenza B is the most common version of the flu currently circulating in Travis County. The memo also stated that uninsured residents or those on Medicaid can find resources for where and how to receive flu shots on the city of Austin website , where Austin Public Health publishes the updated number of flu cases every Monday.

Hailey Rucas, an infections disease epidemiologist at Austin Public Health, said she is part of the surveillance unit tracking flu activity in Travis County. She said the level of flu activity since August is slightly higher compared to last year, but the department will need more time to collect data to determine the overall trend.

Rucas said Austin Public Health is currently notifying residents to encourage them to receive flu shots before the situation gets worse.

“It’s hard to say what it’s going to look like down the future,” Rucas said. “It might stabilize, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Melinda McMichael, UHS internal medicine physician, said the University has had 13 students diagnosed with influenza since Aug. 26, while there were 16 cases in the same period of time last year. 

McMichael said the University has not yet had a large uptick in flu cases but has often seen an increase when people come back after holiday break from communities with high flu activity. She said the University had many more cases in January and February of the 2017-2018 school year.

McMichael said students should not wait to get vaccinated until later in the year, because the national formula for flu shots must change every year to accommodate for the mutations and variations of the virus.

“In April, you’re not going to know if you have any flu vaccine left,” McMichael said. “(Waiting) is just not always recommended.”

Researchers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center are using the supercomputer Frontera to help fight against viruses such as influenza, according to a press release. Peter Kasson, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, said researchers use Frontera to analyze the molecular composition and evolution of viruses. He said the supercomputer runs experimental simulations that help guide the creation of vaccines.

“Frontera can execute the models much faster than prior supercomputers, extending the reach and accuracy of our simulations,” Kasson said in an email. “The influenza vaccine is the most effective way to prevent illness from the virus, and if we can design vaccines against new pandemic viruses, those will also be a key part of our defense.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article had an incorrect title for Melinda McMichael. The Texan regrets this error.