Texas Health Journal: The Flu Issue

I had a rule of thumb when I was Texas commisioner of health. I expected that Texas would have one event of national consequence per year. It might be a new or re-emerging infectious disease, like H1N1 in 2009 or Ebola in 2014, or it could be a hurricane, like Hurricane Harvey last year or Hurricane Ike in 2008. 

We did not know, year to year, what the crises would be. But we could make some broader generalizations both about what categories of event were likely to occur, and what preparations were likely to help. We would be hit periodically by extreme weather. Because of our size, international airports, and large urban areas, we were vulnerable to new and re-emerging infectious diseases. What we could do, therefore, was strengthen our capacity to deal with these challenges. Improve coordination among state agencies, and between state and local agencies. Improve weather monitoring and disease surveillance. Learn from each event and incorporate the lessons into better practices, more precise drills, and new policies and procedures.

This year’s flu season, which is worse than average, doesn’t quite rise to the level of crisis. It’s a valuable reminder, however, that influenza is dangerous and unpredictable, and that we can’t wait until the next pandemic to respond. About 6,000 Texans died from the flu this year. I expect that within the next ten years, we will be hit by an “unexpected” infectious disease that will threaten to take more lives than that. It could be another flu pandemic. It might be a return of measles or mumps. 

We won’t know until it happens. That’s the point. The point is also that we can prepare anyway. This issue of Texas Health Journal looks at some of the UT people who are hustling to do just that, working to protect us both from the seasonal flu, which kills more Texans every year than almost any other infectious disease, and from potential flu pandemics of the future, which could take even more lives. 

David Lakey, MD
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer
The University of Texas System