Flu shot

FILE PHOTO: Lena Sanez receives a flu shot from nurse Betty Becka at the Comal County Public Health Department on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. MIKALA COMPTON | Herald-Zeitung

With public health flu monitoring indicating that the Texas flu season started a few weeks earlier than usual this year, local and state health officials encourage residents to get vaccinated now to protect themselves and their families from flu as the holiday season approaches.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, reporting from around the state confirms more influenza-like illness occurring earlier than in recent flu seasons, which health officials say matches flu reporting from across much of the country.

In Comal County, healthcare providers are seeing a significant increase in flu cases compared to a year ago.

“The Texas Department of State Health Services is reporting an increase in influenza numbers this past week,” said Jennifer Conger, the county’s public health communications specialist. “In order to prevent a higher spread, please make an appointment with the Comal County Health Department at 830-221-1150 to schedule your flu vaccination.”

According to DSHS data, 8% of patient visits to Comal County healthcare providers during the week of Nov. 6-12 were due to influenza-like illness, compared to under 4% this time last year.

Like the COVID-19 illness impacting specific populations more severely than others, influenza can also cause more severe illness in vulnerable people.

Individuals with chronic health conditions, older adults, young children, pregnant women, and people who live with them should get vaccinated to protect themselves and those in their households and communities.

The flu vaccines for this season have undergone substantial changes since last season, which will allow them to better protect against the flu viruses that are now circulating.

There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B and C. Influenza type A viruses can infect people, birds, pigs, horses, seals, cats, whales and other animals, but wild birds are the natural hosts for these viruses.

Influenza A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only some influenza A subtypes — such as H1N1 and H3N2 — are currently in general circulation among people.

According to health officials, influenza A is the dominant strain circulating in Comal County.

“Because influenza can be a very serious disease, we recommend that all individuals aged six months and older get their flu vaccine every year,” said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, DSHS interim commissioner. “The flu vaccines for the 2022-2023 flu season have undergone substantial changes since last season, which will allow them to better protect against the flu viruses that are currently circulating. So it is important to go get this season’s flu vaccine before flu activity increases even more in Texas.”

And it’s crucial to get vaccinated now since it takes the body two weeks after vaccination to fully produce antibodies to fight the flu, Shuford said.

Anyone feeling ill or experiencing flu symptoms should stay home and contact their healthcare provider.

Other ways people can protect themselves and those close to them from the flu are to wash their hands often, cover their coughs and sneezes, and stay home if they don’t feel well.

Also, people can safely receive the influenza vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time without any loss of effectiveness.

The updated COVID-19 booster is designed to protect against the omicron variants, which are causing the most COVID-19 illness in Texas currently.

Influenza illness is caused by one of several related viruses. The onset of symptoms is swift and can include fever, body aches, chills, a dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and extreme fatigue. These can last a week or longer.

Contact your doctor, pharmacy or local health department to learn where you can get your flu shot or use the vaccine finder at Vaccines.gov to find out where flu shots are available.

Healthcare professionals also recommend people seek treatment promptly if they are experiencing flu symptoms.

Effective antiviral treatments are available for the flu, which are highly recommended for people at higher risk of flu complications, such as those with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Antiviral drugs may lessen the duration or severity of the flu if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

In addition to the influenza shot, the county’s health department continues to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older and Pfizer vaccine for anyone five years and older by appointment by calling 830-221-1150. The health department also offers COVID-19 booster vaccines to residents by appointment.

Residents needing a COVID-19 test or booster as well as the flu shot can call their primary care physician or visit a local pharmacy, such as Walgreens or CVS.

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