With four months to go in a particularly taxing flu season, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is working to minimize both instances and severity of the flu by offering free immunizations on a first come, first served basis to anyone with state-approved identification.
“As long as flu is present in our community, we recommend getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director for communicable diseases at Metro Health.
So far, Bexar County has seen one recorded pediatric death that can be attributed to the flu, but the report on influenza activity in the state – at any given time in the season – is often several weeks old because information is reported to the National Center for Health Statistics before DSHS can officially count the death as flu-related, DSHS press officer Lara Anton said.
“The actual number is deaths is significantly higher than 2,355 statewide,” Kurian said. “This number probably doesn’t include deaths that occurred in January because they wouldn’t have had time to go through [the reporting] process.”
Texas residents can receive free flu shots at Metro Health’s immunization clinic at 1226 N.W. 18th St., which will remain open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, while vaccine supplies last.
Kurian told the Rivard Report that the flu season typically peaks mid-January, but this year the peak came early and the number of cases has remained consistently high. Flu shots will protect against viruses that are currently in full force throughout the city, she said, and they may also minimize the duration and severity of symptoms in a flu season that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said includes strains – such as H3N2 – that are much stronger than in years past.
“By week 49 [of the County’s weekly report on influenza activity] we started seeing cases go up, and they have been going up consistently for the past five to six weeks,” Kurian said. “While there was a slight decline last week, it is too early to assume that rates will continue on that trend.”
With no guarantee of a decline in rates, obtaining a flu shot is still considered the most important step in protecting against the virus, followed by limiting contact with those who are sick, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and washing your hands often.
As of Jan. 20, 774 flu tests were conducted in clinics throughout San Antonio. Of those, 40 percent, or 309 individual cases, tested positive for the flu.
According to estimates from the CDC, the flu kills around 12,000 Americans in a mildly severe flu season, and 56,000 Americans in moderately severe flu season.
The current flu season is considered moderately severe.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive a yearly vaccine to protect against influenza, of which there are more than a dozen types and subtypes.
For those who are insured under the Affordable Care Act, flu vaccinations are available 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.
Flu shots fall under immunization coverage as preventative care benefits by most major insurance companies, and are often given at no cost to the patient.
Most Walgreens, CVS, and H-E-B pharmacies have walk-in availability to obtain flu shots during regular pharmacy hours. With insurance, a flu shot likely will run $5; without insurance, it may cost up to $45 depending on the provider.
An updated DSHS report on flu activity will be released Friday. Metro Health follows the same reporting schedule, making all county-level data available at that time.