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Hawaii sees few flu cases so far

Hawaii is heading into its second flu season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In terms of flu cases, not much as changed since COVID started,” said Chad Shibuya, manager of Hilo Medical Center’s Infection Control Department. “We’ve continued to see very low numbers of flu, which is good. At the same time, we continue to see record numbers of COVID cases.”

Hawaii historically has flu cases all year, but flu season typically runs from September or October through February or March.

“The timing of flu is difficult to predict and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website. “Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season.”

“If you want to go by trends, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen this year,” Shibuya said. “There’s always the concern that we could see flu and COVID at the same time, especially if people aren’t being as diligent as they were in the past.”

Fears expressed in late 2020 and early 2021 about the possibility of a “twindemic” — an annual flu season combined with the pandemic — were not realized.

Measures put in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19 also helped reduce the transmission of the flu virus.

The Associated Press reported in February that the flu “virtually disappeared from the U.S.,” with far lower levels than anything seen in decades.

But flu numbers are higher now than they were this time last year, according to data from the CDC.

Most states experienced minimal flu activity for the week ending Sept. 26, 2020, with only West Virginia and Iowa measuring moderate levels of the virus, according to the CDC.

For the week ending Sept. 4, 2021, many states, including Hawaii, continue to have minimal levels of flu activity, while 10 states measured “low” levels of the illness.

Meanwhile, Texas, Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming have “moderate” levels of flu-like illnesses, and New Mexico and Georgia have “high” levels.

The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, with few exceptions.

Shibuya also encouraged people to receive the inoculation, as well.

“It’s always a good idea. Some people may look at the data and say, ‘Well, there’s no flu going around,’” he said. “… You never know what’s going to happen in the coming year.”

This season, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against four strains of the virus, according to the CDC.

“In normal times, when we do have a flu season, we will take care of a good number of flu cases,” Shibuya said.

With hospitals operating beyond capacity because of the surge of COVID-19 cases, “we would need all the help we can get from the public (and) part of that would include getting a flu shot for good measure to minimize the impact that the flu could have on our hospital and the community’s health.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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