The Texas Health Department expects a heavier flu season

Influenza hit Texas earlier than usual this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Officials are encouraging Texans as young as 6 months to get the flu shot as soon as possible to protect themselves during the holidays.

The US flu season typically occurs in the fall and winter, with peak cases between December and January, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of November 5, nearly 8% of medical patient visits in Texas were due to flu-like illnesses, which include the flu and similar respiratory viruses. Each week, healthcare providers share data with the DSHS showing how many of their patients have been screened for a flu-like illness.

According to the CDC, flu symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, and fatigue.

Visits for flu-like illness were significantly lower during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 flu seasons, mainly due to the precautionary measures against COVID-19, such as: B. Masking, social distancing and working from home.

Last year flu activity was around 2.5% in early November. According to DSHS data, values ​​were below 2% in the same period in 2020.

DSHS interim commissioner Jennifer Shuford said fewer Texans have been exposed to the flu in recent years, resulting in reduced immunity statewide. The flu season is also “notoriously unpredictable,” Shuford said, meaning officials don’t know what flu activity will be like for the rest of the year and into 2023.

Because of this, Shuford recommended people get the flu vaccine sooner rather than later. It takes about two weeks for a person’s body to produce the antibodies needed to fight the flu, according to a press release from the DSHS.

“A flu shot will keep someone from getting one [the] Flu in general,” Shuford said. “And for people who end up getting [the] Flu after the flu shot, their illness is less likely to become a serious illness and less likely to result in hospitalization and death.”

According to the CDC, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with other health conditions are more likely to have complications from the flu, especially if they don’t get the flu shot.

To minimize the spread of the flu, Shuford recommended that Texans:

  • Stay home if you feel sick;
  • Limit time with sick friends or family members;
  • wash your hands frequently; and
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Antiviral medications are also available to reduce flu symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Shuford said these drugs are most effective shortly after someone develops symptoms.

Texans can get their flu shot and the updated COVID-19 booster shot at the same time, according to the press release. The updated booster is designed to protect against the highly contagious Omicron variant as well as the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.