Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mark Pierce said it is impossible to predict how bad the flu season will be, but Cookeville Regional Medical Center has already treated 13 cases.
Pierce said the combination of COVID and the flu circulating the public puts high risk people in even more danger.
“We would really like to encourage people to go ahead and get vaccinated for flu. so they are at least protected from that since we do not have an available COVID vaccine yet,” Pierce said. “People who are at-risk, really, no matter how you look at it their risk will easily be doubled.”
While data about COVID is continuously changing, Pierce said any viral infection affects your immune system negatively. Pierce said he speculates that having COVID or the flu increases the odds of catching the other. A person can simultaneously have both viruses.
“You have two circulating viruses that look and act very similarly,” Pierce said. “They can cause the exactly the same clinical syndromes, so there is no way clinically to differentiate the two. When someone comes in with a influenza like illness, it could be influenza. It could be COVID. It could even be another respiratory virus.”
Pierce said healthcare systems across America, including Cookeville Regional, will face challenges depending on this year’s flu season.
“The concern is is that if the flu season turns out to be a bad one and gets ramped up, it will stress our healthcare system even more,” Pierce said. “Here at Cookeville Regional we have had an average of roughly 30 positive patients in the house at any one time for the last month or so. During a bad flu season, we could double that.”
This year’s flu season will include an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and two influenza B viruses. The CDC uses last year’s flu season to create vaccines. Pierce said if you have a choice, pick the quadrivalent vaccine, which is made to give broader protection from all four strains.
Pierce said usually the worst flu seasons come when a new strain of flu surfaces unknowingly.
“Like in 2019, we had that unusual H1N1 pandemic strain that came in from Mexico that we were not prepared for, and that was a horrible season,” Pierce said. “We could tell that was coming just because we saw what was happening in Mexico. We knew our strains were not going to cover it.”
A couple million extra vaccines were produced by the CDC this year in preparation.