By Juan Carlos Llorca
— EL PASO — The rate of flu infections in Texas is among the highest in the nation, and the virulent H1N1 form of the illness has claimed the life of a Houston teenager, officials said Friday.
The teen, whose identity was not released, died on Thursday, said Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the city's health department. Several other deaths related to the illness have also been reported, though the state doesn't keep a tally of adult deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Texas is one of 6 states with "high" activity of influenza-like illnesses. Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said flu activity is "high and widespread, because it's increased and because it's been reported in multiple parts of the state."
The other states classified as having high rates are Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. About 95 percent of the Texas influenza cases are H1N1, also known as the swine flu.
County officials across Texas have reported deaths from flu-related illnesses, though hospitals are only required to report the flu deaths of children to the state.
A network of Texas hospitals tracks the flu's progression each year. This season, infections are spiking weeks earlier than normal, according to statistics compiled by State Health Services. The percentage of hospital visits due to flu symptoms is double what is typical for December, and rates don't usually reach these levels until late January or February.
Three men suffering from other health problems recently died from H1N1 in Harris County, according to Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the county's Institute of Forensic Sciences. Northeast Texas Public Health District also reported three deaths in Longview.
One person has died in Austin, Travis County officials said, while five others were in critical condition at Seton Medical Center Austin. A Euless man in North Texas has also died from the disease, according to his family.
The flu shot currently available defends against H1N1. Health officials say it is not too late to get vaccinated. They note that since the media has begun reporting flu deaths, demand for the shots have spiked.