JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health said Tuesday they are already seeing influenza cases on the rise and emphasized that now is the time to get a flu shot.
Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said the region is about a month ahead of the typical flu season schedule.
“We typically see that peak around January, February,” Swift said. “Based on what we’re seeing right now, it looks like we’re going to have a very early flu season, and potentially a very long flu season.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed Tennessee as having high activity of influenza-like illness and Virginia as having moderate activity.
Swift said cases usually start to appear during the month of October, but this year, Ballad first reported cases in September. Ballad has even seen a few hospitalizations already.
“We are seeing our cases double week over week,” Swift said. “Flu is here. Flu is circulating and spreading.”
Swift recommended getting a flu shot as soon as possible due to the early start of flu season.
“With this early start, it’s important,” Swift said. “I’m telling all of my family, my friends to go get that vaccine now. Let’s not wait a couple of weeks as the flu continues to spread.”
At area pharmacies, the latest flu vaccines and Tamiflu are on hand to get people through the season.
“I’m not really seeing any scripts coming in for anything treating the flu, but our flu shots are picking up,” said Raymond Nash, a pharmacist at West Towne Pharmacy.
At Johnson City Schools, measures are being taken to limit the severity of a flu outbreak.
Jennifer Norton of the district’s nursing department said students are taught from early grades on up about preventing the spread of germs.
“A lot of our nurses in all of our schools actually work with our kids, especially our younger ones to actually help teach them good hand hygiene,” Norton said.
Additionally, flu shot clinics from the Tennessee Department of Health have come to schools to get students their shots with parental consent.
“The students do amazing,” Norton said. “There was one little boy who was asking if he could get it twice.”
Norton said the district is in communication with local health officials to monitor flu transmission as the season progresses.
Creating the most effective flu shot takes some guesswork. Nash said the shot given locally is based on influenza strains in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Every year, some flu shots are better than some years past, so hopefully this year is going to be a good year,” Nash said.
Swift said it will take some time before health officials know the true effectiveness of this year’s vaccine or when the peak of flu season will be.
“This year, it’s a little early to start getting into what’s circulating, what’s not, what strains you’re seeing, if it’s a good vaccine match,” Swift said.
But Swift said getting a flu shot is your best bet against severe illness and hospitalizations, especially if you are in a high-risk population.
“Your highest risk individuals are those that are 65 and older, certainly those infants that are too young to be immunized, and then anyone with underlying health conditions,” Swift said.
Swift said getting a flu shot is a quick and easy process. They are available at most pharmacies and health clinics and take just a few minutes to administer.