Current Influenza Season Differs from Recent Years
Last updated 1/3/2023 at 8:28pm | View PDF
The 2022 flu season is different from recent flu seasons, according to Tulare County Health Officer, Dr. Karen Haught.
“During the 2020 and 2021 flu seasons, most people were using masks while in indoor spaces, which served to protect themselves and those around them from being exposed to respiratory viruses and from spreading the viruses,” she explained. “Masking protects against all the respiratory virus so though it was initiated due to the COVID pandemic, it also protected against influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“This year, influenza illness started to rise in October/November, which is earlier than usual. Most often, influenza illness starts to rise in late December and January. In addition to being earlier the rise of illness this season was more rapid that most years.”
The exact number of flu-related deaths is not known because influenza is not a condition reportable to the county public health department, except for pediatric deaths under 18. Because influenza is not a required reportable disease, Tulare County Public Health is unable to track flu-related hospitalizations. However, local hospitals often provide flu-related hospitalization data based on the patients being admitted and treated for influenza.
“For flu-related deaths, we have the number of death certificates that indicate influenza was a cause of death, however, this may be an undercount,” said Dr. Haught. “Flu cases are generally reported by flu season (October through September). For the 2021-2022 season, there were eight influenza deaths in Tulare County residents. The season prior (2020-2021), there were only three influenza deaths. But the season prior to that (2019-2020), there were 22 influenza deaths.”
Hospitals in Tulare County are working at maximum capacities, according to Dr. Haught. The emergency rooms are very crowded with long wait times, and there are long wait times for those being admitted to get an available inpatient bed.
“The numbers of patients with influenza who are hospitalized are like the number of patients who are hospitalized with COVID,” she said. “Sometimes people may have infections with both viruses. There are also adults hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is a virus that predominantly affects young infants, but this year it has been affecting older adults."
Dr. Haught advises seniors to get flu vaccines.
“Vaccines are a first line of protection,” she said. “It is important for seniors to be vaccinated against COVID with the primary series and a bivalent booster. The bivalent booster is important to protect against the variants circulating currently.
"The flu vaccine is also very important, and seniors should receive a high dose vaccine. There are quadrivalent inactivated high dose vaccines, adjuvanted vaccine and a recombinant vaccine for seniors over 65. If a high dose vaccine is not available, then a standard vaccine can be received. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine. Pneumococcal vaccine is also very important for seniors. The pneumococcal vaccine will help protect from bacterial complications of influenza.”
She also advises using a well-fitting face mask when in indoor spaces, and staying home if you are ill and avoiding being around people who report being ill. If you are scheduled to have a meeting with someone who is ill, make alternate arrangements.
“If you have symptoms of flu, which include fever, headache, sore throat, cough, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, or nausea or vomiting, contact your health care provider for guidance,” said Dr. Haught. “Anyone with these symptoms should be tested for both COVID and influenza.
"There are effective treatments available for both COVID and for influenza, but they are different medications," she added. "If you cannot be tested at your health care provider’s office, you can test with a home test for COVID. These are available at pharmacies and covered by insurance."
If you have a positive test for COVID, you can seek treatment through free telehealth visits at Sesame Care. Call 833-686-5051 or schedule online at https://sesamecare.com/covidca.