Mold and flu season

Connie Buenger wears a mask inside her flood-damaged home in League City on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, to block some of the allergens making her sick as she and her husband, Karl, try to rebuild.

People who are sneezing, hacking and feeling generally bad may be suffering the effects of flood-spawned allergens, but the source of the ailing might be even worse, health officials said, because the flu has arrived early in Galveston County.

“We had two outbreaks with a total of 24 cases in September, which is a little earlier than normal,” Galveston County Health District spokesman Scott Packard said.

All the cases were influenza A strain, Packard said.

One outbreak was at a day care center and the other was at a nursing home, Dr. Philip Keiser said. Keiser, who is an infectious diseases expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch, is the Galveston County local health authority.

“Influenza is here,” Keiser said. “Get your flu shot.”

Drugstores, hospitals, clinics and the health district are offering flu shots, he said.

Anyone with flu symptoms should see a doctor in the first 48 hours, Keiser said. A doctor can prescribe the medication Tamiflu to people diagnosed with the flu, he said.

“If you have the flu, it’s like magic,” Keiser said. It can also lower a sick person’s infectiousness to other people, he said.

Medical professionals expect flu to come in January, and they typically start flu-shot campaigns in October, Keiser said.

MOLD ALLERGY OR FLU?

Many people sniffling and sneezing in Galveston County are attributing their ailment to mold that has grown after Hurricane Harvey.

Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some areas, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the community.

Some people could have flu symptoms but others with allergies are suffering from exposure to mold, health officials said.

“Mold-related illnesses are usually an allergic reaction,” Keiser said. “If it gets inside your house, it’s awful.”

But if you don’t have a mold allergy, you won’t have that reaction, he said.

“Asthma exacerbates it,” Keiser said. “It won’t bother most people.”

Also, the long wetness of items meant more allergens were in the air after Harvey, which means even if someone didn’t have a mold allergy, they could still be coughing and sneezing because of something else in the air.

Connie Buenger, a League City resident whose Bayridge home flooded, had to stop repair and recovery work after her allergies flared up, she said.

Her doctor ordered her to not be in her house at all, she said.

“But I’ve got to be there,” Buenger said. Her grandchildren get off the school bus in the neighborhood, and because she has custody, she has to pick them up. And while she is there, she does take care of some things, she said.

Black molds that grow inside homes after floods are not harmful unless you are allergic or if have an immune-suppressed condition, Keiser said.

Examples of immune-suppressed conditions would be someone who had a recent organ transplant or had recent cancer chemotherapy treatment, Keiser said.

“They can develop an infection because of mold,” Keiser said.

DID HARVEY CAUSE THE FLU?

The wetness of Harvey did not cause the flu, its contagiousness did, Keiser said.

“Flu is person-to person,” he said.

But is it possible that flood evacuees in shelters spread the flu?

“I don’t think so,” Keiser said. “The incubation period is 10 days to two weeks.”

Galveston County shelters had no disease outbreaks after Harvey, Keiser said.

“We always worry about people getting infectious diseases in shelters,” he said.

When people get sick in shelters, it’s usually from gastrointestinal diseases that make people vomit or have diarrhea. After Hurricane Katrina, Texas shelters for evacuees did have outbreaks of norovirus, an example of that kind of disease, Keiser said.

After Harvey, Galveston County shelters had no cases of those type of illnesses, Keiser said.

Another shelter sickness that can happen is food-borne illness, but there were no cases of that after Harvey, he said.

“We did very well,” Keiser said. “We didn’t see any of that.”

Valerie Wells: 409-683-5246; valerie.wells@galvnews.com

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