HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The weather is starting to cool down and that means flu season is around the corner. Doctors warn that this flu season could be worse than usual.
Social distancing and mask-wearing for the past two years meant that the previous flu seasons have had fewer flu cases than ever. “Last year was the lowest flu season on record, including in our area, 400% less than usual,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County health authority.
While it’s good that flu cases were low it does mean we’re primed for a bad season this year. Because there were fewer flu cases in the last two years people haven’t been as widely exposed to the strains of flu virus that are common right now.
“Anything that’s going to contribute to people not having immunity, such as a decreased amount in the population, is going to result in people getting sicker,” Melendez said.
Fewer flu cases kept hospitals clear for COVID patients, but now it’s coming back to haunt us.
“It’s almost like building up a debt. Because we didn’t have it bad last year, everything last year is going to get pushed to this year plus what you would normally get this year,” said Dr. James Castillo, the Cameron County health authority.
It’s not just the flu, doctors are seeing more and more cases of other common diseases we’ve seen less of during COVID-19.
“Influenza, RSV, Rhinovirus, enterovirus, all the other viruses that we’ve been dodging this whole time have been making a pretty brisk comeback, especially with back to school,” Castillo said.
The flu shots are formulated for the season’s strains and are available by mid-summer but the immunity provided by the flu shot decreases over time. “In children, it might be a good idea for them to get it early because their immunity lasts longer. In elderly people we recommend starting in September, definitely everyone by the end of October,” Melendez said.
The flu vaccine is available both in a shot and also in a nasal spray, both are equally as effective and you can decide which is best for you by talking with your doctor.