Health & Science

Flu season in Texas beginning earlier than usual; expert recommends not waiting for flu shot

The current numbers of flu cases throughout the Houston area aren’t usually seen until December or January.

Aaron M. Sprecher / AP
A pharmacist gives a senior citizen a flu shot in September 2013 in Houston, Texas.

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Flu season may have come earlier than expected in 2022, with the virus already spreading through the Houston area.

On Tuesday’s Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, Dr. Wesley Long, Medical Director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, said that there are more cases than typical of influenza in September. The current numbers aren’t usually seen until December or January. Flu season typically runs from September until March, according to Dr. Long.

"It usually peaks in those sort of middle months, December, January, February… It's really highly unusual looking back over several years to see very many cases in September," Long said.

Dr. Long said that the U.S. flu season follows the Southern Hemisphere's flu season.

"During the pandemic we saw that if they had a mild flu season, we would then have a mild flu season," Dr. Long said. "We're in the situation in the Northern Hemisphere of now we're starting to see an early start into the flu season so that begs the question of just how many cases we are going to see through this particular year."

Long added that according to Houston Methodist's day to day positivity numbers, the flu season has gotten off to a very rapid start.

"We've already had one day where we had more positives in a single day than we had at the peak of the flu season last year."

In an interview with Houston Public Media’s Celeste Schurman, Long said that Texas is also peaking earlier than usual for influenza activity.

Long says historically the number of flu cases in September is typically very low in Houston. That's why most people wait a bit longer into the season to get a flu shot so that the flu vaccine protection lasts longer into the spring.

But he says that is not the case for this year's flu season and is recommending everyone get the flu shot as soon as possible, based on what experts are already seeing.

Long explains that one reason there has been an early increase in cases is "probably due to lack of immunity in the population."

"...we haven’t seen a lot of flu during the pandemic and because people maybe haven’t been getting vaccinated, it's really important to go ahead and get your vaccine now earlier than you might have gotten it previously,” he said.

Long says the flu vaccine provides the best protection against severe influenza symptoms.

"The flu has the capacity to make very young, very healthy people severely ill and even to cause mortality in very young and very healthy people more so than we saw in COVID-19," he said. "The flu vaccine is your best offense against that."

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.

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