As the Northern Hemisphere settles into winter, flu cases are starting to climb. The CDC issued an advisory the week of Thanksgiving that, while cases remain low, they are starting to see an uptick in cases, specifically of Influenza A (H3N2), impacting mostly young adults. The CDC notes in their advisory that seasons where this particular strain is dominant are often associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in patients 65 and older.
The majority of cases are being seen in children and young adults ages 5 to 24. There has also been an increase in outpatient visits in patients less than 5 years old due to influenza-like illnesses according to CDC reports. While the nationwide rate of positivity is still just 1%, CDC scientists warn doctors’ offices could soon see many more flu patients.
A reflection of this rise in flu activity among the young is currently playing out on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor Campus. A flu outbreak that began in early October grew so quickly that the CDC came to investigate. The CDC’s system for monitoring infection also shows an increase in cases in areas home to large colleges and universities.
This current rise may be explained by more people traveling and co-mingling as measures to prevent COVID-19 spread have largely been reduced in the wake of vaccines becoming widely available. The relaxing of preventative measures, coupled with the fact that the flu virus tends to spread easier in colder weather, could mean a higher potential for flu and COVID-19 outbreaks to overlap.
Unfortunately, flu vaccination rates are also down this year, especially among children and pregnant women — two demographics that are at a higher risk of severe infection. But the CDC stressed that there is still time to get the flu shot as a form of protection.
The H3N2 component of the 2021-22 flu shot was recently updated and is closely related genetically to the circulating strain. And studies show that in seasons where most circulating viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccines, vaccination can reduce the risk of flu by 40-60%. Anyone six months or older should get the flu vaccine. Considering the uptick in flu cases in younger people, the CDC is underlining the importance for that group to get vaccinated.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the idea of a potential flu outbreak on top of that is not one many doctors are hoping to see. Now is the time to take steps to help protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting either virus so that medical facilities remain available to those who need them.
Aside from getting your flu shot, you can help reduce your chances of spreading the flu by practicing the same preventative measures encouraged during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include regularly washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding touching your face, and staying home (or keeping your child home) when sick.