Flu season makes its return during the latter end of 2021

Published 2:43 pm Thursday, December 23, 2021

BY NIC MILLER
STAR STAFF
nic.miller@elizabethton.com

After a slower flu season in 2020, health officials say rates are increasing in 2021 as the virus returns to the area.

Ballad Health officials say cases of the flu were down drastically during 2020 and most of 2021, with COVID-19 being a main factor.

“We actually did not see much of the flu last year, and we tested for it,” said Jamie Swift, chief infection prevention officer with Ballad Health. “A lot of the COVID tests that we use test for the flu as well as COVID-19, so it was conclusive that there was a lack of the flu last year.

“What we think is that with the surge of COVID cases last year, people were trying to be more careful with precautions. There was more mask wearing, more social distancing efforts, as well as the cancellation of many large events, so the flu just never had the opportunity to spread.”

Swift said the effectiveness of those measures was encouraging. “As an infection preventionist, I love that we literally know that we can stop flu season if we can do those things. However this year, unfortunately there are not that many mitigations in place and we are seeing a pretty rapid comeback of the flu,” she said.

Swift said it is difficult to tell the difference between COVID and flu based solely on symptoms.

“There are not really any tell-tale signs between the flu and COVID,” said Swift. “The only way to really know the difference is to get tested for both viruses, and that is our recommendation while COVID and flu are circulating. If you have any illness at all, we really recommend getting tested, but getting tested for both viruses.

“Flu is a seasonal type of disease, and this is the same time of year that we usually see the virus. People are moving back inside, there is not as much ventilation, so right now has all the perfect factors for transmission of multiple respiratory viruses.”

In terms of vaccines, Swift recommends vaccinations of the flu just as much as COVID-19. “Flu vaccines are going to mostly be through places like urgent care or associate physicians. They are not administered at our COVID vaccination sites, but there are various other avenues for those vaccines.”