AUSTIN (KXAN) — While flu season typically peaks between December and February, area clinics are seeing heightened demand for flu shots in recent weeks due to late season case increases.

Despite this uptick in cases and flu shot demand, the presence of influenza in the state of Texas is still significantly lower than previous seasons. The latest analysis from the Department of State Health Services, published Friday, reported 924 cases statewide, with a positivity rate of 17.31%.

It’s a trend Austin physicians are closely monitoring, said Dr. Manish Naik, Austin Regional Clinic’s chief medical officer and chief medical information officer.

“When we do test for flu-like illnesses, the absolute numbers are still not anywhere near what they are with a typical flu season,” he said. “But the numbers are still rising.”

For comparison, figures from the 2019-20 flu season — which ran largely before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — saw a season-high positivity rate of 41.75% and confirmed case load of more than 3,400.

While winter is traditionally the season communities see their largest spikes in flu cases, the confirmed positive cases have been rising since late February, in congruence with laxing COVID-19 safety provisions and declining cases of the coronavirus.

And as COVID-19 vaccinations have been at the forefront of most public vaccine efforts in the past year, Naik said people are not yet seeking out flu shots at the same frequency as prior to the pandemic.

“Most people’s attention this winter season was focused on COVID, and I think people were more vigilant about getting their vaccinations and boosters,” he said. “At Austin Regional Clinic, we’ve been trying to do both [COVID and flu shots] throughout the season, particularly for our patients that are higher risk. So there’s some renewed interest in the flu vaccine because of the rising cases and positivity rate for flu.”

ARC continues to offer flu shots for patients, particularly those classified as higher risk. While supplies are more limited at this stage of the season, Naik said the clinic will continue offering so long as flu activity remains active.

As for those who get a flu shot at this point of the season: Is it too close to the start of 2022-23 flu shot rollouts in the fall? Naik said no, adding there’s no concerns of overlaps or adverse side effects in getting an additional flu shot in six months’ time.

He also added that, as conversations on COVID-19 vaccine efficacy have emerged, those same points apply to the flu shot. The flu shot, he stressed, is a critical tool at preventing severe illness and hospitalization from influenza, not from contracting it.

“There’s efficacy against getting an infection, which could be mild, and then there’s efficacy against getting severe illness, which could put you in the hospital where you can die from it,” he said. “When you look back at previous flu seasons, I think this flu season is no different. Even when the flu vaccine was a mismatch for the variant of the flu that was out there, flu vaccines have consistently been very efficacious at helping prevent severe illness from flu. And I think it’s no different this year.”