UVA Health experts outline early indications of flu season

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 10:41 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - After a year of virtually no flu season, the illness is starting to pop up across the country ahead of its ordinary peak.

January is typically when we are in the midst of a flu epidemic, according to UVA Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Bill Petri. While the transmission rate is still reasonably low in Virginia (it’s at the sporadic level, the second-lowest of five levels according to the Virginia Department of Health) there are signs pointing toward last year’s absence not repeating itself.

At the University of Virginia Medical Center, about 50 cases of the flu have been reported. While only a couple of patients had to be admitted to the emergency room, Director of Hospital Epidemiology Dr. Costi Sifri says the time to prepare is now.

“I think the open question is are we going to have a big flu year, or is it just going to be a more typical [flu season] that we see year in and year out?” he said.

Dr. Sifri says part of preparing is practicing some of the mitigation measures we’ve all become accustomed to due to COVID-19 -- from wearing masks indoors to washing your hands and staying home if you feel sick.

“You tend to know when you have the flu. You get sick, you feel like you’ve been hit by a brick wall,” said Dr. Sifri. “And if you’re feeling like that, make sure that you get evaluated and certainly those aren’t the times to go to work, school or to go to a holiday party.”

The other recommendation is getting your flu shot. Dr. Petri said the shot is available for anyone, any age over six months.

“Your six-month-old should be vaccinated against flu and that’s because every year except for last year, sadly, we have children that die of influenza,” he said.

Dr. Petri says another reason to get vaccinated is that the strand of flu most prevalent so far is H3N2 -- the one that causes the most severe disease.

“The fact that 90% of flu isolates so far this ‘H3′ type of flu is a harbinger for a worse flu season than average,” Dr. Petri said.

Dr. Petri says besides relaxed masking and distancing policies, another reason for the potentially worse flu season is the fact that travel between the northern and southern hemispheres has resumed.

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