Dr. Jennifer Shuford, infectious disease medical oﬃcer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that while ﬂu season typically peaks between December and March, the timing and severity of the ﬂu’s spread every year is uncertain.
“Getting the ﬂu shot is the single most important thing that a person can do to prevent themselves from getting the ﬂu or from severe ﬂu and its complications,” she said.
Shuford said that while DSHS works every year to share messaging about ﬂu preparedness and prevention, eﬀorts to inform Texans about ﬂu shots and recommended precautions have increased this year. And in addition to communications from the state organization, Shuford also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing ﬂu vaccines for residents of all ages this year in addition to the department’s ongoing Texas Vaccines for Children Program.
Shuford said the state department will monitor Texas hospital capacity over the coming months. She said that while COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout Texas decreased in September, increases during the fall and winter may again lead to capacity issues throughout the state.
“We don’t feel like we’re out of the woods,” Shuford said. “We feel like our health care system is safe at this moment in time, but that any addition of ﬂu in our communities or even COVID-19 in our communities could start to impact and stress our healthcare system.”
After COVID-19 hospitalizations remained below 100 in Collin County for most of September, they climbed above that threshold in October and peaked at 195 on Oct. 27. However, that is well below the county’s hospital capacity of 2,702 beds, according to data from Collin County Health Care Services. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Denton County have remained under 100, which is less than 10% of the county's capacity, throughout September and October, according to data from Denton County Public Health.
Bent Tree Family Physicians founder Dr. Guy L. Culpepper called this a “horrible year” to get the flu because many doctor’s offices will prefer to treat anyone with fever through televisits or drive-thru testing lines.
“Consequently, we're going to miss some pneumonia, some [sinus infections with fever and] some flus because we may be on telehealth, presuming it's COVID[-19],” Culpepper said. “That's going to delay treatment in a community and in a healthcare system that's already delaying treatment on a lot of things.”
Flu vaccinations for uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid-recipient residents are available in Collin and Denton counties from the county health clinics. Local and state oﬃcials advise anyone ages 6 months or older to get a ﬂu shot unless they have a conﬁrmed medical reason not to.
While residents following CDC-recommended guidelines related to COVID-19 could provide an additional protection against the spread of the ﬂu and related illnesses, Culpepper said he expects more people are going to get vaccinated than normal this year.
“A lot of the deaths each year that we have in America that are under 18 at flu season are children, unlike COVID[-19],” Culpepper said. “We cannot avoid seeing people, especially children, now that are sick with fever and managing their flu illnesses because we're worried about COVID[-19].”
For patients with fever and symptoms common with flu and COVID-19, Culpepper said it is best to get tested for influenza.
“What you don't want to do is say, ‘Oh, it must be COVID[-19],’ ” he said. “You [may] miss an opportunity to shorten a flu illness by starting flu medicine because we do have medicine for the flu.”