The Metropolitan Health District gave free influenza immunizations today for local residents.
The Metropolitan Health District gives influenza immunizations to local residents in January 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Flu virus activity is on the rise in San Antonio, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, which reported one local pediatric death in addition to an increase in the number of positive test results at clinics and hospital throughout the city during the last week of November.

The Bexar County child who died last month marks the third pediatric death from complications of the flu this year in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health’s communicable disease division, said that while this flu season got off to an early start, “it did not start early and abruptly.” Since the health department began tracking flu in October, the increase has been “slow and steady” throughout the city.

“We are just seeing flu activity begin to pick up,” Kurian said. The weeks beginning Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 saw an increase in positive test results and flu-like symptoms, she added. 

While the CDC listed Texas among seven states, along with Puerto Rico, where flu activity was rated as “high” for the week beginning Nov. 10, Kurian said that “compared to the past, activity is much lower this year” for San Antonio.

Of the 4,214 influenza tests performed in San Antonio and Bexar County so far this season, 293 were positive for either influenza type A or B.

Kurian said there are high rates of influenza type B, which was not a predominant strain in 2018.

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 in October, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that all children over 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu, and that “pediatricians should administer whichever [vaccination] is available in their communities to achieve the highest possible coverage this influenza season,” including traditional vaccine injections or nasal sprays.

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

Kurian said people “should get vaccinated as soon as possible” if they haven’t already.

To curb the impact of the flu, the federally funded Vaccines For Children   program provides vaccines to Metro Health to distribute among its two immunization clinics annually at no charge to eligible residents.

Most major insurance companies and Affordable Care Act providers 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.

“Don’t wait for the flu season to begin, or for it to get worse,” Kurian said. “So long as the virus is circulating, you still have time to get vaccinated.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the Rivard Report.