HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Rio Grande Valley is experiencing an increase in flu cases and hospitalizations, after a couple years of reprieve as people guarded against COVID-19.

Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo told ValleyCentral the flu is spreading early this season — and the county has already begun to see an uptick in cases and hospitalizations.

Castillo said the flu was almost dormant for the past two years due to the country’s approach to combating COVID-19 with mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing. However, it is now back, given more people are relaxing those preventative measures.

In comparison to pre-COVID-19 flu seasons, Castillo said the Rio Grande Valley is off to an early start. He said similar upticks are happening across Texas and the United States.

Earlier this month in Hidalgo County, a 3-year-old died of respiratory symptoms after testing positive for the flu, authorities say.

Alhough the child tested positive for the flu, the county must await a final determination for the cause of death that comes from state health officials and could take weeks.

“Normally people get their flu vaccine about now or a little bit later, but if somebody hasn’t gotten it yet, it’s really time to do it,” Castillo said.

Is it COVID-19 or the flu?

With COVID-19 still prominent in the community, ValleyCentral asked how the public can differentiate between COVID-19 and flu symptoms.

“We’ve really passed our Omicron wave, so what’s really spreading right now is the flu and some respiratory viruses,” Castillo said. “The big difference between the two and COVID is going to be loss of smell or taste, that’s not as common lately and maybe some GI symptoms.”

Measures to guard against the flu

Some preventative measures to consider this flu season include staying home when sick, wearing a mask and washing your hands.

Castillo said the flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older regardless of one’s state of health.

Margarita Smith from the Cameron County Health Department said it is safe to take the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved a quadrivalent influenza shot for those 65 and older. Smith suggests speaking to your health care provider to decide which dosage is best for you.

“There may be some temporary side effects, just like when you get your COVID-19 vaccine you can get fatigued, fever, mild body aches but you definitely can get your vaccine,” Smith said.