Flu cases already starting to pop up across Missouri, following last year’s record lows

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 9:38 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Medical experts say flu cases could jump this fall and winter after a historically low flu season last year.

“Last year’s flu season was bizarrely low,” said CoxHealth Interim Director of Infection Prevention Neal DeWoody.

The Springfield Greene-County Health Department said you could count the peak number of flu cases last year on two hands. A spokesperson with the health department said it was hard to find a “peak” last year because numbers were so low. The number of reported flu cases reached a maximum of seven at once, which was significantly reduced compared to 669 reported cases in January of 2020.

Health experts say the first couple of weeks of October is generally when flu cases start to pop up. According to a CDC map, those cases are starting to show up across certain parts of the country. During the first week of October, Columbia and Poplar Bluff, Missouri were listed as having “high” flu cases. Springfield was listed in the upper half of the “low” case volume category.

”The only reason I would guess that it’d [influenza] be more substantial this year is that last year was incredibly low,” DeWoody said. “You could get two or three a week and we’d be higher than we were last year.”

Cox President and CEO Steve Edwards previously described last year’s flu caseload as “spooky low.”

”We can’t count on that two years in a row,” Edwards said. “I think what’s important is there’s a pattern in infectious diseases that the strongest virus wins out. And so it could have literally pushed other viruses out. So as delta goes down, it does leave us susceptible for other infections.”

Experts say another major factor included all of last year’s safety precautions.

”With all of our mask mandates and social distancing practices, that kept the flu numbers down pretty low throughout the year for us as well,” DeWoody said.

While medical professionals say there is always a chance for mutations, CoxHealth’s models currently predict COVID caseloads to continue to decrease into the spring.

”The only reason that the COVID levels going down may result in an increase in influenza is people will probably let their guard down more,” DeWoody said. “So they’ll stop taking the precautions and influenza spreads the same way as Coronavirus does.”

Healthcare leaders say it is important people do not forget about flu vaccines this year. If you are looking to also get a COVID booster, they say that is not be a problem.

”The CDC already has put out guidance on that to where they say, you can certainly get them separated, but you can also get them together,” DeWoody said. “There’s no harm. There have been several studies that have looked at that, and there has been no noticeable harm from getting them both at the same time.”

As flu season ramps up, experts say to keep this in mind: if you are not sure whether you have the flu, COVID or another illness, stay home, social distance and get tested.

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