(INDIANAPOLIS) – Flu season was basically nonexistent last year. Health officials are concerned it may make a comeback this year.
Last year, flu season arrived as the COVID-19 pandemic was entering what proved to be its peak. Health departments worried about a so-called “twindemic” that would stretch hospitals to the breaking point.
Instead, Marion County Health Department infectious disease administrator Melissa McMasters says, the precautions people were taking against the coronavirus — masks, social distancing, and staying home — sharply reduced the spread of flu. In the eight-month flu season, Indiana had just seven flu deaths.
On the worst day of the COVID pandemic, in December, Indiana had seven deaths every 81 minutes.
The Indiana Department of Health announced Indiana’s first flu death of the new flu season last week — the death actually occurred in September, two weeks before what’s considered the start of the October-to-May flu season.
McMasters says it’s not possible to predict in advance how bad flu season will be. But she says the decline of extra preventive steps like mask use has health officials on their guard. She’s hoping the COVID pandemic has reemphasized the importance of other, more routine precautions: get vaccinated, wash your hands, and stay home if you feel sick.
McMasters says stacking a flu outbreak on top of COVID would severely strain hospital capacity. She notes COVID alone put intense pressure on hospitals. And since both COVID and flu attack the lungs, McMasters says being infected with both at once multiplies the risk to patients.
The health department is encouraging people who come in for COVID booster shots to get their flu shot at the same time. Unlike the COVID vaccine, there’s essentially no age limit for flu shots — the vaccine is approved and recommended for anyone more than six months old.