The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is offering texas residents free flu shots as long as supplies last.
Local experts say the flu remains a much more realistic and immediate danger than contracting coronavirus, which has just six confirmed cases in the U.S. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

With temperatures still in the 90s, flu season in San Antonio may seem like a distant worry. But ahead of this winter’s peak flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that people start getting vaccinated now, before flu begins to spread.

The Department of State Health Services found a slight increase in influenza-like illness reported in Bexar County during the week ending on Aug. 25. With children throughout San Antonio back at school, there is more possibility for disease to spread.

“A majority of infectious diseases are transmitted from person to person,” said Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s communicable disease department. “With children in a more congregate setting, spending more hours in close contact and close quarters, there is more of a chance” they will get sick.

Flu viruses are detected year-round in the United States, but are most common during the fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but activity often begins to increase in October and can last as late as May. Peak flu season is typically between December and May, according to the CDC, which maintains nationwide flu activity as reported by county health authorities.

In a policy statement issued Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that all children over 6 months of age should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available this season, preferably before the end of October, and recommended flu injections over the nasal mist.

The CDC updated its recommendations on seasonal flu vaccine use to include the nasal spray version for children older than 2 years and non-pregnant adults under age 50. For the last two flu seasons, the nasal spray vaccination was not recommended by the CDC due to limited data on its effectiveness, Kurian said. “There is some limited data available now saying that it is effective against” viruses for this flu season, she explained.

The nasal spray vaccine contains a weakened live virus, while the flu shot contains dead influenza virus strains.

The flu shot is the pediatric academy’s first choice for children 6 months and older because it has provided the most consistent protection against all strains of virus in recent years. But if a child is unable to receive the shot because of an underlying chronic medical condition or other reason, he or she may receive the nasal spray vaccine.

“It is imperative to get the vaccine in whatever form one is able, because vaccination is your best bet against preventing the infection,” Kurian said. “It takes two weeks for immunity to build up, so people should get the shot before the season begins.”

More than 800 Bexar County residents died from complications during the flu season last year, according to Metro Health’s influenza surveillance report. Of the more than 23,000 screenings completed from Oct. 1, 2017, to June 2, more than 4,800 patient specimens tested positive for either influenza Type A or B. Flu in Texas peaked in January, according to state health officials.

“We had a more severe flu season last year, but there is no way of saying how the flu season will look this year,” Kurian said. “The only predictable thing about the flu is that it is unpredictable.”

To curb the impact of the flu, North East Independent School District is offering free flu shots to students through the Healthy Schools Program, which provides no-cost health services directly to public school students during the school day. Vaccines For Children, a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost, provides vaccines to Metro Health to distribute among its two immunization clinics.

Those insured under the Affordable Care Act can receive flu vaccinations free of charge; however, patients should check with their insurance provider to find out if they need to go to a specific facility to receive the vaccine. For those with Medicaid or Medicare, the flu shot will be covered as long as the health care provider accepts the insurance plan.

Most major insurance companies categorize flu shots as preventive care benefits, and patients can receive them at no cost.

Most WalgreensCVS, and H-E-B pharmacies have walk-in availability to obtain flu shots during regular pharmacy hours, and many are currently offering flu shots. Without insurance, it may cost up to $45, depending on the provider.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.