Guest Column

The flu season is different this year — here’s why

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There’s an unmistakable soundtrack this time of year, but the sounds of the holidays we’ve been hearing have nothing to do with Bing Crosby or Mariah Carey. Instead, they’re the sounds of coughing, sneezing and sniffling as, once again, the influenza season is upon us.

And this year, there’s more than one Scrooge of our respiratory systems.

Three’s Company

In addition to the traditional influenza strains, we’re seeing a rise in levels of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) as well as a steady number of cases of COVID-19. Many patients are experiencing co-infection with any combination of these three diseases.

Why?

The first reason is our immunity. We needed to maintain our distance from each other during the pandemic to stop the spread of that virus. But that also meant our immune systems weren’t getting their usual “workout” by being in contact with other people. This year marks the first year we’ve been fully back together and since we’re being exposed to more germs than last year, our immune systems haven’t had the chance to strengthen yet.

Also, Florida and the Southeast United States have seen an increase in flu cases much earlier than the rest of the country, and we didn’t have a lot of time to vaccinate. Each flu season is different, based on the dominant strains, and this year has definitely been unique.

Time to Fight

So how can we fight back? The first answer is simple: get a flu shot; they’re easy and effective. Second, as soon as you start experiencing any symptoms (coughing, body aches, sore throat, etc.), get tested. The earlier we can recognize the symptoms, the more effective treatment will be. We offer free testing at 450 Atlantic Blvd. in Neptune Beach. Third, know that children and adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of infection, as well as people with underlying health issues and anyone who is pregnant or diabetic.

That last point is key: protecting those at the highest risk is our highest priority. We have to stay vigilant in taking the necessary precautions to keep our friends and families safe.

So, if you’re heading to any parties or family gatherings this year, remember to get your flu shot beforehand and if you or anyone you know starts to experience flu-like symptoms, go get tested right away to help stop the spread of the holiday soundtrack nobody wants to hear.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Thompson is a board-certified emergency room physician. He’s the co-founder and chief operating officer of Jacksonville-based Telescope Health, which is a physician-led, health care solutions company focused on reducing barriers to care through innovation, human connection and technology.

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