MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now to swine flu and one hotspot for the virus in the U.S.: Texas. It is one of 26 states where the Centers for Disease Control says swine flu is widespread. And almost all of those states are in the lower half of the country. In the past week, two teenage girls in Texas died after being diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. There were so many absences in one school district north of Houston that the district told all 6,300 students to stay home.
NPR's John Burnett reports from Austin where nearly everybody knows somebody who's come down with the flu.
JOHN BURNETT: Dell Children's Medical Center, a modernistic new hospital on the site of Austin's old airport, recently erected three sand-colored field tents on its parking lot. They are the swine flu tents.
Dr. PAT CROCKER (Chief Of Emergency Medicine, Dell Children's Medical Center): For the past two weeks or so, we've been seeing an increasingly high volume of flu cases here in Austin. And it's peaking now, it seems. We saw almost 400 arrivals yesterday, most of them with flu.
BURNETT: That's Dr. Pat Crocker, the hospital's chief of emergency medicine. They had 400 patients on Sunday and a total of more than 1,100 over the past three days, most of them with the flu. Crocker says the flu tents relieve the load on the emergency room and keep highly contagious kids away from other patients. The good news, he says, is that most flu patients exhibit mild to moderate symptoms and rarely have to be admitted.
Dr. CROCKER: Most all of these children are getting well on their own with a little help from mom and that's all it takes.
BURNETT: No one has hard numbers of how many people are sick with swine flu in Austin. The Austin Travis County Health Department reports 21 hospitalizations and two deaths from H1N1. Nationwide, the CDC has received reports of 49 pediatric deaths from H1N1 since April. But anecdotally, everybody knows the flu bug is roaring through Austin like a Blue Norther, the famous Texas autumnal cold fronts.
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BURNETT: Last week, H1N1 took out the entire tuba section, five players of the Austin High School Marching Band, according to band director Brian Frock.
Mr. BRIAN FROCK (Band Director, Austin High School): They were all sick at once, and rumor had it that they thought it would be cool to drink out of one water cooler at the game the week before. And so they all were sick over the weekend, and the sickness went throughout the band. And we're still having some of that going on.
BURNETT: The tuba section is back this week and they'll be marching in the halftime show at Thursday's game between the Austin High Maroons and the Akins Eagles. That's what everyone in town says: This flu mainly infects young people and they get over it relatively quickly. Dr. Thomas Hughes, at Capital Pediatrics, says his practice has had to hire additional staff and stay open late to accommodate the crush of patients.
Dr. THOMAS HUGHES (Capital Pediatrics Group, Austin): Now, in my 35 years of practicing pediatrics in Austin, I've never seen an epidemic like this. And apparently it's really similar to the flu that was in 1957 because the N1 is almost exactly the same apparently. So, that's why older people aren't getting sick, they have partial immunity to that.
BURNETT: In terms of the patients themselves though, what does it feel like to catch H1N1?
Ms. HELEN BURNETT (Sophomore, Austin High School): It wasn't much different from the normal flu. It was just aches, headache, some stomach pain…
BURNETT: Fifteen year-old Helen Burnett, my daughter, is a sophomore at Austin High School.
Ms. BURNETT: …a really high fever and I just all-around didn't have much energy.
BURNETT: Her experience was far different from what she feared last spring, when swine flu hit the news.
Ms. BURNETT: When it first came out and I heard about it in the newspaper and on TV and stuff, like everyone else I was thinking, oh no, I'm going to get swine flu and get sick and die.
BURNETT: Helen was down for all of six days. A prescription of Tamiflu might have shortened her symptoms, but her doctor followed CDC guidelines, which is only to give it only to children under two or patients with special medical conditions. So, while her immune system went to work, Helen slept, watched TV, texted her friends and ate.
Ms. BURNETT: Even though I was sick, my appetite was really, really good. And so you'd bring me pretty much anything I wanted: popsicles, strawberries, Pop-Tarts, a Schlotzsky's sandwich and bacon.
BURNETT: Once again, TLC along with a fever reducer is the best medicine.
John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
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