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Mystery illness kills 4 near Houston

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The state health department is investigating four deaths in the Houston area. Those who died were among eight patients who suffered severe flu-like symptoms but they didn't test positive for common flu strains.

In Montgomery County, north of Houston, a mysterious illness is killing people. Within the past two weeks, eight patients ranging in age from 41-68 have sought medical treatment for severe flu-like symptoms. Of those eight, four died.

"What we've been seeing is a progression from influenza to pneumonia and they develop complications from the pneumonia which lead to the death," said Mark Escott, M.D., Montgomery County Health Department director.

All tested negative for the flu. Some had pre-existing conditions. Health officials say nothing connected them other than symptoms.

"Our concern is identifying if this is a usual strain of influenza or perhaps a different virus," said Escott.

The state health department has requested specimens be sent to the state lab for further testing. A spokesperson tells FOX 7 a rapid flu test used in doctors' offices does not rule out all strains of influenza. The state can test for all strains.

At Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, Dr. Sujit Iyer says he is seeing an increase in patients.

"We're officially in the start of flu season here at Dell," Iyer said.

From December 9th through the 15th, 126 people tested positive for the flu at Dell Children's. During that same time period, University Medical Center Brackenridge reported 11 cases, Seton Medical Center reported four, Seton Northwest reported 12, and Seton Southwest reported four.

Outside of Austin, Seton Williamson in Round Rock saw 10 positive flu cases and Seton Hays in Kyle reported seven.

"There is no better prevention than washing your hands," Iyer said. "The flu itself can spread on materials and hands, especially if you're at home with someone who has the flu. We recommend people not return to school or work until they're fever free for a least a day."

According to the centers for disease control, 23,600 Americans die of the flu each year.

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