Influenza season is back and national health officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the respiratory illness hitting Americans more severely than in previous years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report, the District of Columbia ranks as a hotbed of flu infections, with 16 reported cases of influenza as in the second week of October. The total number of positive cases increased by seven diagnoses just from the beginning of the month.
The presence of seasonal influenza in conjunction with coronavirus infections is creating a potentially strong cocktail of rising illnesses across the nation. Medical expert, Dr. Valda Crowder, MD, MBA, predicts this coming season to bring a host of respiratory issues to the District and beyond.
“I think it is going to be a really bad virus season. Whether or not it will be Influenza A, Influenza B, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), or one of the other major viruses, I think in general it will be a bad viral season,” Crowder said.
The flu became a secondary concern over the past two years as variants of the COVID-19 virus spread and evolved into a pandemic. Influenza cases, on the other hand, became a noticeably increasing threat and raised concerns over how impactful a full return of the airborne infection might be.
When examining the estimated flu-related illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States reported by the CDC, the seasonal flu showed a significant increase in the severity of cases when comparing hospitalizations by flu between 2018-19, versus 2019-20, with the U.S. documenting a total of 375,126 hospitalizations, and 27,619 deaths in the 2018-19 year. Comparatively in the year 2019-2020 (2020 occurring simultaneously with the coronavirus outbreak), health professionals saw an estimated 389,498 hospitalizations and 25,079 deaths nationwide.
Threats of an oncoming “twindemic” of both COVID, and rising influenza occurrences have further pushed health officials’ urgent plea for citizens to take appropriate dosages of both COVID-19, and seasonal flu inoculations. Dr. Crowder makes certain to emphasize the importance of people verifying the specific booster they have received walking into this season.
“I noticed people seem to be very confused about whether or not they got the Bivalent COVID booster,” said Dr. Crowder. “It is really important for them to get the Bivalent COVID booster because the XBB variant of the COVID that is coming our way is susceptible to the Bivalent [booster]. You have protection with the Bivalent, [but] you don’t have so much protection with the booster that is not Bivalent.”
COVID vaccine recipients can confirm the status of their received booster shots by checking their booster cards which should indicate the specific type of booster administered to them, as it is heavily recommended to receive before the winter season. Likewise, health officials have reformulated this year’s flu shots, preparing the dosage to sustain the potential threat we could experience as we close out the year.
Particularly with the holiday season approaching, family gatherings, airports, and planes are major spaces to yield with heavy caution in how people are operating this time of the year.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser additionally encourages District residents to be alert to the health challenges believed to come this upcoming season and the importance of staying protected.
“It’s not just COVID we have to be thinking about because now we’re also in [the] flu season. Whether you need your first, second, or third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can get it done at the same time as your flu shot,” Bowser said in a statement encouraging residents to seek inoculations during the flu season.