As the 2020-2021 flu season begins, Walgreens Flu Index indicates flu activity is up 23% across the nation compared to last flu season as people return to more in-person activities.

Cases of the flu in 2020-2021 were somewhat low because many people stayed locked up in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials said.

According to Walgreens Flu Index, the Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco and McAllen area ranked No. 3 of the top 10 areas around the country with flu activity. Texas also ranked No. 3 out of 10 top states reporting flu activity.

“The Walgreens Flu Index shows higher flu activity to date than what we saw last year during this same time, when we saw unprecedented low levels of flu due to people sheltering in place, wearing masks and record flu shots administered,” said Kevin Ban, chief medical officer, Walgreens in a media release. “It remains critically important to get vaccinated against the flu before it spreads in your community. With many regions loosening COVID mitigation efforts and people spending more time together in person, we may see an uptick in flu activity and our pharmacy team members are readily accessible to help you get vaccinated and address questions.”

Officials said the Walgreens Flu Index provides state and market-specific information regarding flu activity, and is compiled using retail prescription data for antiviral medications used to treat influenza across Walgreens locations nationwide.

The flu season usually begins in October and continues into May. Health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the 2020-2021 flu season could be a busy one.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the CDC said there were few flu cases last year in part due to the precautions that were put in place because of the pandemic.

“With modest flu virus activity since March of 2020, CDC’s flu experts are concerned that reduced population level immunity to the seasonal flu could place us at risk for a potentially severe flu season this year,” Walensky said in an Oct. 7 briefing announcing flu vaccination efforts.

Walensky said that each year in the United States the flu can claim between 12,000 to 52,000 lives. She added “an increase in flu infections and flu severity could put an additional burden on our health care system and increased stressed on our nation’s health care workers.”

A view of Walgreens Pharmacy offering immunization shots in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Because it is early in the flu season the CDC is recommending people get a flu shot by the end of October.

Many pharmacies, doctors’ offices and clinics are already administering flu shots and most shots are covered by various insurances.

Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish with the chills, cough, sore throat, a runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may experience vomiting or diarrhea, which is more common in children than adults, according to the CDC.

People at higher risk from the flu include those 65 years or older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children younger than 5 years of age.

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