Number of Austin flu-related death grows; rapid flu test in short supply

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – In the last month, Austin doctors saw a distribution shortage of the drug that eases flu symptoms. Now, health workers nationwide are running out of rapid flu tests.

This comes as the Austin-Travis County Health Authority released new numbers for flu-related deaths in the area.

So far, 28 people have died in Travis County, said Dr. Phil Huang, the authority’s medical director. All of the victims are in their 30s and older. Of those, 19 were 80 years old and older, he said. Those numbers show the severity of this year’s flu season as dozens more have died nationwide.

But, Dr. Huang said doctors shouldn’t rely on the rapid flu test to treat patients.

“If you’ve got someone that’s got the symptoms that’s consistent with the flu, the test is not going to be the make-or-break decision in terms of getting treatment,” Dr. Huang said.

And, the test’s accuracy has been called into question. Last month, the FDA swiped two top brands from shelves because of too many false negatives.

“When it’s so prevalent, there is more likelihood of a false negative result on some of the rapid flu tests,” he said. “If there is a clinical case that’s exactly consistent with the flu, most physicians would treat it.”

Although this year’s flu vaccine isn’t as effective as past years, Dr. Huang says patients, especially the very young and old, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, should still get a flu shot.

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