JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It is not just COVID-19 health leaders are worried about as we head into the holidays — influenza is making its return.
Since the end of September, Ballad Health reports their hospitals have seen 283 total patients admitted for treatment of the flu. They expect the number of cases in the community is higher.
December is historically the peak month for widespread flu. However, this time last year it was not the case with a virtually nonexistent flu season.
“We truly did prevent flu through our COVID measures. This year we are not seeing that. We were masking a little bit more, people were very careful around Christmas, there were fewer gatherings,” said Ballad Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift.
Local health leaders say our region will see the flu this year, in fact they are already seeing cases climb.
Swift says the dominant strain of flu this year is of particular concern.
“Anytime you have an H3N2 season, it’s a pretty severe season. You end up with a lot of emergency room visits, some more hospitalization. Typically, H3N2 is not a good match to the vaccine,” Swift said.
Swift says though, this does not mean to skip the flu shot. She encourages everyone to get vaccinated as it will provide protection from several less dominant strains and milder symptoms in most cases of a positive test.
With flu spreading and the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 making up for most new nationwide cases, health leaders say our hospitals will feel the strain. Health leaders call it a “twin-demic,” fearing an explosion of both diseases at the same time.
“First and foremost our concern is going to be around those emergency rooms and the wait times,” said Swift.
“There is a lot of widespread flu activity going on right now. The combination of flu with the omicron variant potentially affecting our team members has us very concerned,” said Ballad CEO Alan Levine.
Levine said the hospital system is preparing to balance flu and COVID as they see numbers of flu rising week-by-week locally.
“Two weeks ago we had 26 ER and inpatient visits of patients with the flu. This week that just ended, Saturday, we had 171 in the ER or admitted,” said Levine.
Swift says in light of this, it is a smart idea to return to wearing a mask and staying socially distant in public.
“Given the trajectory of flu and COVID, I have gone back to masking. It really is time to go back to those full prevention measures,” she said. “I am pleading with people to please get vaccinated this week. For flu, COVID, get your booster. Get as much protection as you can,” said Swift.