Figures from Austin Regional Clinic show the health care provider network administered more than 4,500 flu tests in the three weeks preceding the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 28, with 26.76% of those resulting in positive results for the flu.
In the first week of December immediately following Thanksgiving, ARC confirmed an additional 447 cases of the flu through administered tests, according to data provided by ARC.
While the total number of flu tests administered and positive flu test results peaked in the middle of November, ARC officials warn that a second wave of flu cases may be likely as people travel and congregate in close quarters throughout the holidays.
“[The flu is] a highly contagious, spreadable disease when people get into settings where there's a lot of socialization like the holidays. There is rapid spread,” ARC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Zdunek said.
Flu cases generally begin in early November and taper out by the end of February, Zdunek told Community Impact Newspaper, but the flu season varies from year to year. ARC figures show positive flu results were found as early as mid-September. By the middle of October, more than 500 people per week were coming in ARC facilities for flu tests.
According to figures from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas is one of eight states in the continental U.S. to have the highest level of influenza-like illness.
The severity of flu seasons can vary year to year, Zdunek said, and CDC data shows that hospitalization levels and mortality rates are consistent with other recent seasons.
Zdunek reported the highest number of positive flu cases that ARC has confirmed was found in two demographics—school-age children and young adults.
“When I look at our data, the two highest cases are the 5-17 year olds and the 25-49 year olds,” Zdunek said, saying that parents with pre-K children and elderly patients are more diligent about getting flu shots early in the season because of their increased vulnerability to the flu virus.
“Your best defense against the flu is getting the flu vaccine,” Zdunek said.
ARC has administered 84,632 flu shots this year—16,777 more shots than it had given by this time last year.
It is still possible for those who have received the flu vaccine to come down with the virus, but the risk is greatly reduced, and the severity of the illness is lessened, Zdunek said.
Regardless, Zdunek said the best course of action is to get a flu vaccination before the holidays, but he also cautioned to see a doctor as soon as you start identifying symptoms in yourself.
Flu symptoms include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches, or fatigue, and some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.
Zdunek added that flu symptoms often come on suddenly, and flu patients do not typically experience head congestion similar to a cold.
“If you feel like you’re getting sick ... the sooner you get to the doctor, the more likely you are able to be prescribed something to combat that illness,” Zdunek said.