Austin (KXAN) - Scientists at Austin Regional Clinic 's main lab in north Austin perform and sort through about 4,000 tests every day, seven days a week. They come in from ARC clinics in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. This time of year they are watching flu tests closely, but there have not been that many to watch.
"This time of year we're typically peaking, and we're really just in the very early stages of the outbreak," said Administrative Director for Lab Services David Martin.
Martin says our mild winter has played a role in the mild flu season so far.
"When it's very cold and rainy people tend to congregate inside together, and this helps the virus to pass between people," said Martin.
Austin-Travis County Health's immunization program manager thinks another reason is the flu vaccine is simply easier to get.
"I think there's more access to services," said Austin-Travis county Health and Human Services Immunization Director Kurt Becker. "There's more access at the chain pharmacies, at the HEBs, CVS, Walgreens and all of those locations. We have also tried to do a thorough job identifying sites throughout the county where we can do these big mass clinics."
Martin says the flu virus is hard to predict, so there's no way to tell right now how hard the flu will hit us this season. However it most definitely will hit.
"I would expect within a couple of weeks this incubation if you will -- I always say the flu has to seed the area and then incubate -- and that we should start seeing an outbreak," said Martin.
This year's flu vaccine may not protect from one flu strain
There is one flu strain spreading in the central and eastern parts of the country that the flu shot may not protect us from. The ARC lab and the CDC is monitoring that closely. It is an H3N2 variant, mostly seen in Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Martin told KXAN scientists believe the variant came about when pigs became co-infected with the swine influenza A (H3N2) virus and the human 2009 H1N1 virus. The infected pigs then passed the variant strain on to humans. To date, there has not been a variant case reported in Texas.
Health experts advise people it is not too late to get a flu shot, although they can take a couple of weeks to become effective. Antiviral medication like Tamiflu can be effective in treating flu symptoms if taken within 48 hours of the symptoms starting to show. Other than a flu vaccine, the best protection is still frequent hand washing, coughing into your sleeve and staying home when you are sick.
Flu shots for children are still available through the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services "Shots For Tots" program. Call 512-972-5520 for information.
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