BEXAR COUNTY, Texas — Flu cases are rising much earlier and faster than the same time last year, and the H3N2 strain is poised to be a problem, according to the Metropolitan Health District.
The Health District published their third weekly Influenza Report Tuesday and the reported "Influenza-like Illness" account for 12 percent of reported health care visits according to data the district received from health care providers.
Less than 5% of heath care visits were for flu in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Metro Health Department Deputy Director Anita Kurian said clinics, hospitals and urgent care centers are all seeing the trend.
"We are seeing a steep rise in flu activity and this is indeed one of the earliest seasons compared to seasons in the past," Kurian said.
Even worse, Kurian said the U.S. influenza season normally mirrors the recent flu seasons in Australia and other southern-hemisphere countries, and those seasons have been particularly bad.
"Most countries in the southern hemisphere are experiencing their most severe flu season in five years," Kurian said.
Kurian told KENS 5 there are several possible reasons for the increased flu activity. Right now, the A(H3N2) subtype, or strain, of influenza seems to be the main strain spreading in the county and accounts for two out of three cases. That strain has proved more severe than others over the years.
"This particular strain causes more severe illnesses," Kurian said. "In the seasons where H3N2 was the dominant strain, we saw more hospitalizations and more illnesses."
Kurian also said people have become less immune to influenza over the last few years as COVID-19 prevention has prevented people from being exposed to it. A more susceptible population could mean earlier spikes in infections.
"It is fair to believe there is less immunity in the population and when this happens we see an early season, which indicates a lot of susceptible individuals," Kurian said.
School districts are seeing cases increase right now, though school officials aren't reporting a huge influx of cases as of yet.
NISD Director of Health Services Jennifer Krueger said their campuses are already working with kids and staff to continue COVID-related safety measures to keep kids safe.
"We are still doing a lot of frequent cleaning, still working with students on the important of hand washing and working with families that... if you have someone sick at home you need to stay at home," Krueger said. "We haven't seen it (flu) quite this early before and it's hard to know how much higher it is going to get before the holidays."
Health officials continue to encourage people to get the flu vaccine. Fortunately, the H3N2 strain is included in this years flu vaccine.