North Texas hospitals seeing jump in flu cases

North Texas hospitals are seeing the number of flu cases rapidly increase.

Health officials say it’s typical for this time of year, but it's still concerning.

Dallas County reported its first pediatric flu-related death this week was a 4-year-old Garland girl who was not vaccinated and later developed pneumonia. Health department officials say it is not too late to get a flu shot.

Last flu season was especially bad. This year, Dallas County has only seen about a third of the cases it saw last year at this time. Still, the message is to get the flu shot to help avoid complications and even death.

Martell Grinage spoke to FOX 4 on Monday afternoon about rushing his 4-year-old daughter, Ashanti, to the ER days after being diagnosed with flu Type A. Ashanti's fever had already broken. Then, her condition took a sudden turn when she developed pneumonia and was dead four days after showing any symptoms.

Martell says Ashanti's mother is out of the hospital and home now. She also had the flu and developed pneumonia.

Late Tuesday afternoon at the Dallas County Health Department, Angie Harmon brought her teenage daughter in for a flu shot. She was motivated in large part by news that the flu had claimed Ashanti’s life.

“Which is why I wanted to make sure she got hers today,” she said.

Harmon's 9-year-old-son had his own bout with the flu last week even after getting his flu shot.

“He had it on last week and it lasted about four days,” she said. “Doctors said if he hadn't had a flu shot prior to that it probably would have lasted anywhere from seven to ten."

Dr. Preeti Sharma is a pediatric pulmonologist at UT Southwestern and Children's Health Dallas where in the last two weeks the number of flu cases has doubled to 506.

“A lot of times, we don’t think of influenza as being dangerous. We’ve all had the flu,” Sharma said. “So even for healthy people, there are life-threatening complications that can go along with the flu.”

Sharma says pneumonia, a bacterial infection in the lungs, is a common complication associated with flu and especially among those with compromised immune systems. But anyone can develop it.

“There are cases in which healthy individuals who may or may not have been vaccinated against influenza, but most commonly weren’t vaccinated, that their immune system is suppressed enough from having the flu that they develop those complications,” Sharma said.

Dr. Sharma says it's not uncommon for patients to experience temporary relief from symptoms midway through having the flu only to get worse. She says making it all the more important to get the flu shot, and it's not too late to take a proactive approach to shortening the duration of flu, severity of symptoms and reducing the risk of complications.

“It’s still a valuable thing to do,” she said. “And you never know when your child will be exposed, so giving them that protection is very helpful.”

Dr. Sharma says it's especially important for parents to get vaccinated if their child is under 6 months. She reminds patients it takes time for immunity against influenza to build after getting the flu shot.