Dec 12, 2022 - News

Virginia's flu season surge

Illustration of a thermometer shaped like an upwards arrow, with the mercury rising.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Yet another wave of viral illness — flu — is crashing on a health system already stretched to a breaking point by COVID-19 and, more recently, RSV.

Why it matters: The commonwealth surpassed last year’s peak a full two months before flu season typically begins, per the Virginia Department of Health.

The big picture: This year’s outbreak — the worst in more than a decade — has left nearly every state with high or very high levels of flu activity, underscoring how pandemic precautions may have left us more vulnerable to seasonal respiratory diseases, Axios' Adriel Bettelheim writes.

Zoom in: After battling a surge in RSV cases that filled the region’s pediatric wards, Virginia is now among 10 states with the highest level of flu activity, per the CDC.

  • Flu levels here surged at the beginning of November.
  • Every region of the state is now seeing high or very high levels of the disease, with kids under four accounting for the highest share of infections.

Between the lines: While case numbers remain very high, they have dipped slightly since the beginning of the month.

  • But Louise Lockett Gordon, an epidemiologist with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, says it’s too early to say whether we’re in for months of misery or if levels will keep dropping.
  • “It’s very early in the flu season to say we’ve hit peak,” Gordon tells Axios. “I’m hopeful, but it’s early.”

😷 Be smart: Getting a flu vaccine is the most important step you can take to avoid getting sick, Barry Rittmann, a specialist in infectious diseases at VCU Medical Center, tells Axios.

  • He says he’s also resumed masking in public places like supermarkets and is sticking to smaller holiday gatherings.

Go deeper: Public health experts say that masking and other pandemic precautions largely kept influenza at bay over the past two years and disrupted its seasonal spread. But the return to pre-pandemic life has left us more susceptible to infections.

  • Normally, "we might get exposed to a small bit of virus and your body fights it off," John Tregoning, an immunologist at Imperial College London, told Nature. But, he added, "that kind of asymptomatic boosting maybe hasn't happened in the last few years."
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