Omaha-area doctors concerned about spiking flu cases
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If this flu season has felt worse this year than in previous years, that’s because it is.
As influenza cases in the state spike at levels not seen this time of year since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Omaha-area doctors are talking about the influx of patients they’re seeing at local hospitals and clinics.
At the end of November, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services was reporting a 29.7% positivity rate for the state. The highest rate reported on the DHHS respiratory dashboard was 34.9% reported for the week ending Feb. 12, 2020. That spike was among 3,694 tests, compared with 6,035 tests conducted the last week of this past November.
Monday afternoon, CHI Health doctors spoke about the flu trends they were seeing locally as compared to state and national figures.
Those most affected are young ones.
“Kids (case numbers) are very high,” said Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, chief of infectious diseases at CHI Health-Creighton University. “Zero to four years of age are a high rate of respiratory viral infections, if you look at the data.”
She said the flu trends here were similar to what Nebraska data was showing and what CDC data was indicating across the nation. She said that combatting three viruses simultaneously this year — flu, RSV, and COVID — has been particularly challenging for medical staff.
And the numbers are expected to continue climbing.
“If you look at the influenza peak, it’s just starting to go up,” Dr. Vivekanandan said. “So I think the numbers are going to be there for a long time — probably end of January middle of February.”
Dr. Jason Kruger, chief medical officer at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, said his hospital is running out of beds, though not as urgently as was the case during the first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, he said, the ER remains very busy.
Dr. Michael Schooff, a primary care medical director at a CHI Health Clinic, said his team is used to seeing about two walk-in flu cases a day; now they’re seeing twice as many — and treating about twice as many respiratory infection cases than they have previously as well.
In Douglas County, nearly 900 cases were confirmed for the week ending Nov. 26, with more than half the hospital admissions for flu this season among children ages 4 and younger. That percentage of flu admissions — 53.4% — was more than double the number of cases among those ages 5-24, which accounted for 26.3% of admissions.
DCHD data shows that 2,347 cases had been reported in November through the 26th — the highest number in any November since 2012. DCHD recorded 221 cases in October, nearly 10 times the rates reported in the same month for 2019. The 2019-2020 flu season was the county’s highest on record, with 6,931 reported from October 2019 through May 2020. The next highest case total was in the 2017-2018 season, which saw a total of 6,033 cases.
“The flu season is always hard to predict, but it can bring serious illness,” Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said in the DCHD release. “We encourage people to get their flu shot as soon as possible because it takes two weeks before it provides protection.”
To stay ahead of the flu trends, doctors suggest protective and preventative measures like masking and vaccinating.
“It’s never too late to get vaccinated now,” Dr. Vivekanandan said.
DCHD especially encourages those in or spending time around high-risk groups — children, adults ages 65 and older, as well as those with asthma, diabetes, or chronic lung disease — to get their flu shots. The vaccines this season are formulated to protect against four strains of the flu: two A strains and two B strains.
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