Symptoms of fall showing up in cooler temperatures in Wichita Falls might have brought on thoughts of football, pumpkin spice, Halloween – and the flu.
The chills running down your spine are not likely from an actual case of influenza at this point but from thoughts of the last flu season that closed schools and had United Regional Health Care System turning to hospitals across North Texas to take overflow patients for a time.
It’s not that there is no sign of the illness with its brew of fever, muscle aches, headache, chills, sweats and dry cough at all in Wichita County.
“We are getting some reports that we’re seeing some limited flu in the community, but it’s still early on,” Lou Kreidler, director of health for the Wichita Falls-Wichita County Public Health District, said.
The normal flu season for this area is from mid-December through January, Kreidler said. The peak is in January usually.
Wichita County has had at least one positive rapid flu test, according to the Sept. 16-22 flu activity report from Texas Health and Human Services.
Kreidler said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people get their flu shots as soon as the vaccine is available.
Signs are popping up around town for influenza immunizations, already offered by pharmacies and many physicians, she said.
“I personally wait until November to get my flu vaccine because I know the flu season is mid-December to January,” Kreidler said.
The shot takes two weeks to take effect, so there is still time to be vaccinated, she said.
Other respiratory viruses — in particular rhinovirus/enterovirus — have been detected in Texas, according to the latest surveillance from the state
But it’s so early for flu that the Texas Health and Human Services actually considers it to be late – week 38 – in the 2017-2018 season, which began Oct. 1, 2017.
Indeed, the health district hasn’t begun its flu surveillance yet, and the immunization clinic hasn’t yet gotten in its flu shots from the Texas Vaccines for Children Program, Kreidler said.
Whether a child – anyone under 18 – can qualify for a shot through the TVCP depends on insurance status, she said.
If a child doesn’t have coverage through insurance the clinic can bill, then an eligible child can qualify for a shot through the TVCP with a fee based on a sliding scale, Kreidler said.
The health district’s immunization clinic does have private-pay flu vaccines, and for adults, it’s all private pay, she said.
If the clinic accepts an adult’s insurance, staff members will bill it, she said. If not, the adult will pay a fee of $20 for a flu vaccine.
Kreidler had key advice for adults and children.
“I just always like to tell people to be sure and wash their hands,” she said. “As we go into the fall of the year, more people are in crowded environments.”
And babies under 6 months can’t be vaccinated, Kreidler said. So it’s important for those who will be around small babies to get vaccinated.
“People still die from the flu. We can take a vaccine and help protect our children,” she said.
The 2017-2018 flu season claimed the lives of at least 21 adults in Wichita County, according to the first-ever report tracking local flu-related deaths from the health district.
Eight people died of influenza and 13 of pneumonia, which is a complication of the flu, from November of 2017 through January of 2018, according to a review of death certificates by an epidemiologist at the health district.
But no pediatric deaths from influenza-related illness were reported in Wichita County in the reviewed period.
“It wasn’t that last year’s flu season was really severe,” Kreidler said. “It’s that the flu vaccine was not well matched to the strain of flu that was circulating.”
But it’s important to get a flu shot because it will still provide some protection, and if a person does fall ill, the case of flu should be less severe, she said.
A flu vaccine is designed to fight a mix of strains of the illness, and the process to create one takes time, Kreidler said.
It’s not possible to adjust the vaccine as the flu season continues, she said.
“It’s either well matched or it isn’t, but there’s no going back,” Kreidler said “They just have to plan for the next year.”