FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Catholic churches in 29 West Texas counties have been told to stop using shared communion cups and to bow instead of shaking hands when offering the sign of peace.
Teachers in some East Texas schools are cleaning desks, water fountains and doorknobs and making sure students wash their hands often.
The flu remains widespread in Texas, and people are still taking precautions and rushing to get the flu shot. The flu season usually starts in October and peaks in December through February, although it started a bit earlier than usual, in late September.
It's unclear when the flu season will end. Based on what could be the peak, "then we're about halfway there, but the flu is unpredictable," Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of infectious diseases at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, said Saturday.
While some hospitals and clinics in Fort Worth and Austin have reported a decrease in patients with flu-like symptoms in recent days, emergency rooms in Dallas, El Paso and elsewhere remain crowded with flu patients. Kahn said his children's hospital remains extremely busy and that this flu season has been more severe than in past years.
The number of positive flu tests was nearly 1,600 the last week of December but less than 500 the first week of January, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The percentage of doctor visits for flu-like symptoms was nearly 12 percent the last week of December and less than 10 percent the first week of January, the most recent figures available.
But that data is likely to change as more reports are added. In the 2011-12 season, several reporting periods ended up with increased numbers, including the third week of March, initially reported as having less than 100 positive flu tests. In the following week's report, the third week of March showed nearly 300 positive flu tests.
At least six flu-related deaths of children have been reported in Texas since October; the state doesn't track adult deaths.
Six-year-old Tahlia Johnson was buried Friday after an emotional funeral service, where her small white coffin was adorned with pink and white flowers. Stuffed animals, a bicycle and other toys surrounded the casket.
She died Tuesday at her home. She was taken to a Dallas-area emergency room Monday night, but her family said she wasn't tested for the flu. Instead, Tahlia saw a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor and was sent home with an allergy medication and pain reliever, her relatives said.
The Dallas County medical examiner has confirmed that her death was flu-related.
"With these pediatric deaths, this is a wake-up call to make sure every child gets vaccinated," said Dallas County Health Department Director Zach Thompson. It's unclear if Tahlia had received a flu vaccination.
Thompson said a recent increase in demand for flu vaccines in Dallas may be because two of the six flu deaths were in Dallas County. Thompson said he received 1,000 doses of flu vaccines in the past week and plans to order more to accommodate the longer lines of people, many who said their pharmacies had no more.
In Austin, San Antonio, Wichita Falls and other cities, some pharmacies have reported shortages of a prescription anti-viral medication to treat the flu. Spokesmen for CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens said Friday that shortages were intermittent and temporary.
"If (pharmacies) are running out, that's a good thing, because that means people are getting the vaccine," Carol Schliesinger, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department, told the San Antonio Express-News.