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Emergency room overflow: Flu cases ‘on the rise’ across Tarrant County

Visitors wait at the emergency department at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.
Courtesy photo
Cook Children’s
Visitors wait at the emergency department at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Seasonal respiratory infection cases at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth continue to rise as Influenza A and B and respiratory syncytial virus spread among children and adults.

Between Dec. 24 and Dec. 30, 352 patients admitted at Cook Children’s flagship hospital tested positive for either Influenza A or Influenza B. That’s a 27% positivity rate out of 1,308 tested — a spike from the previous week.

During the week of Dec. 17 and Dec. 23, tests for the virus came back 25% positive out of the 1,514 patients who were tested.

“Flu is definitely on the rise,” said Dr. Kara Starnes, medical director of Cook Children’s Urgent Care Services. “Entire families are coming in positive since it’s pretty contagious.”

Positive cases of RSV continue to come into the pediatric hospital as well, but the virus has steadied compared to the past few months, she said.

Between Dec. 24 and Dec. 30, tests for RSV came back 15% positive out of 1,308 patients tested. Back in late October, tests for the virus came back 25% positive.

With more sick families, Cook Children’s Medical Center is experiencing an increasing number of people coming into its emergency room, which has resulted in longer wait times.

Tarrant County Public Health has listed its flu activity in the region as “widespread,” which is the highest level according to the department’s codes. The widespread level is labeled as “increased influenza-like illness activity and or institutional outbreaks in at least three of the quadrants and recent (within the past 3 week) lab confirmed influenza in the county.”

Here’s what families can do to stay healthy as respiratory viruses continue to spread:

What to know about the respiratory viruses

Influenza A and Influenza B are the two forms of flu that typically circulate each season and cause mild, cold-like symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever. Both strains are transmitted mainly by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing from an infected person.

Influenza A is usually the most common form of the virus in adults and tends to circulate earlier in the season, but Influenza B is more common and severe among children. Influenza A can spread from animals to humans, but Influenza B only spreads between humans.

The flu vaccine typically protects against both strains of influenza. A Tarrant County program, started in 2020, used to provide free flu shots for uninsured residents until it ran out of funding in November.

The flu season activity peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May. It is recommended that people receive the vaccine, even if it is later in the season rather than skip it entirely.

Flu vaccines are free under most insurance plans. Cash costs vary for uninsured residents. The Fort Worth Report called several local pharmacies for their flu shot costs. Click here for a list of rates.

RSV is a respiratory virus with similar symptoms to influenza, according to the CDC. Most children will be infected by the virus by the time they are 2 years old — most recover in a week or two. If untreated, RSV can become bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

In July, the FDA approved a new shot to prevent severe respiratory disease caused by RSV in infants and children. The medication, called Beyfortus, also known as nirsevimab-alip, is available to children up to 24 months of age who remain vulnerable to severe RSV disease through their second RSV season.

But, the demand for the medication quickly outpaced the supply. Cook Children’s is facing a shortage of the treatment, said Starnes.

“Unfortunately, supply is worse now than it was before. There are still doses available for really young babies right after birth, but it’s based on weight and there’s not very many newborn babies that are that low in weight,” she said.

What to do if your family tests positive for flu or RSV

People can prevent the spread of the virus by washing their hands frequently, covering their sneezes and coughs, and staying home when sick.

If you or your child only has mild symptoms, it is advised not to go to the emergency department. For mild symptoms, it is recommended to provide frequent nasal suctioning at home and stay hydrated.

“I would stress that it’s important to not just go into the emergency department because you want testing for flu, strep, RSV or those types of things,” said Starnes. “Those things are better handled in a primary care office or through telemedicine. Our emergency department is very overwhelmed with volume and so bringing the fewest number of people is really helpful.”

If you or your child begins to have severe difficulty breathing, faster breathing than normal, turns blue or has become drowsy, call 911 immediately. Other concerning signs include flared nostrils, wheezing or rattling in their chest, excessive sleepiness, lack of appetite and trouble feeding.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at or @davidmreports on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.