Remember the ‘Twindemic?’ Health officials give update on current flu season

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Before the flu season began back in October, health officials warned of dangerous new concerns regarding both flu cases and COVID-19 cases. It was coined as a “twindemic,” meaning the overlap of these two viruses could heighten the dangers of the already on-going pandemic.

COVID-19 and the flu have a number of similar and overlapping symptoms, according to the CDC. The similarities in symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches and headaches. Of course, the severity of these symptoms varies, but there are also some differences between the two.

According to the CDC, the coronavirus may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

Now that the nation is well into flu season, health officials are revisiting the initial thoughts of a “twindemic” and have found that it’s no longer a top concern.

While the flu is still a serious virus, it appears that the precautions put in place for COVID-19, such as not touching your face, constantly sanitizing, wearing a mask and social distancing, have all played a role in stopping the spread of the flu and limiting cases, as opposed to previous years.

While COVID-19 cases continue to rise, that’s not the case for the flu. However, according to officials with Holston Medical Group, we have yet to reach peak flu season, which normally occurs from January through March.

Officials with ETSU Health told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that the peak of flu season tends to be unpredictable. In most cases, they can analyze the potential peak based on the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s tricky this year since they also didn’t have much of a flu season.

Dr. Blair Reece, the assistant professor of internal medicine at ETSU Health, said she’s personally treated one flu case this year to date. She compares that singular case to this time in recent years when she’s treated anywhere from 15 to 20 cases by now.

She said it’s a good sign that we haven’t seen too many cases, especially given the fact that the region’s hospitals are already overflowing.

“The hospitals are at max capacity and even a small flu outbreak may be more than the system can handle at this time with all of the COVID patients we have, so it’s still a concern, it’s still in the back of our minds, but right this second it appears that we’re dodging a bullet, so to speak,” Dr. Reece said.

Dr. Reece said the safety measures put in place for COVID have also helped in stopping the spread of the flu. “The same things that we’re doing for COVID, washing our hands, wearing a mask, socially distancing, not gathering in groups, all of those things work to decrease the flu as well,” said Reece.

However, while there aren’t as many cases, it doesn’t mean the flu isn’t out there. The potential for a spike in flu cases can still happen.

“We have definitely not hit any kind of peak in the flu in 2020. We are seeing cases of flu, it is out there. Now it’s not as prevalent as COVID right now, but it is out there,” said Sullivan County Health Department Regional Epidemiologist, Heather Mullins.

Mullins said she believes the spike is still to come. “We start seeing a lot of cases at the beginning of the year in January, February, March even for the flu. So it’s coming, it’s here and it’s coming, but it’s not at the level of COVID,” said Mullins.

If people continue to follow safety measures to slow the spread, she hopes we can get through with just a mild flu season. While flu season has been underway for a few months now, it’s never too late to get a flu shot.

“Just because we haven’t had a big flu outbreak now does not mean that it can’t happen in January or February and the flu shot is absolutely your best protection that we have to offer for the flu,” said Dr. Reece.

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