MSHA: Flu season beginning to peak in Tri-Cities region

Zach Vance • Mar 16, 2016 at 9:55 AM

It’s been a below-average winter flu season.

So far.

Catching the flu is generally the furthest thing from most people’s minds when temperatures rise and spring approaches. But officials at Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance say the chance of being bedridden has drastically increased in recent weeks as influenza season begins to peak. 

In recent weeks, confirmed cases of the flu have steadily increased after a winter season classified as below average.

On Wednesday, officials at Mountain States said 70 influenza cases were reported from March 5 to March 12, more than double the previous week’s total. 

“It’s a little bit late; typically we see our larger numbers in January and February in this area,” said Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Mountain States. “So it’s certainly a little late for our numbers to be going up for flu.” 

Swift said reports of the flu were low across the nation during the winter, but now the virus is beginning to circulate. 

The most recent flu report released by the Centers for Disease Control listed 10 states and Puerto Rico as experiencing high influenza-like activity. Tennessee and Virginia were among states experiencing moderate levels of flu-like symptoms. Widespread influenza activity was reported in 37 states. 

“So peak flu season is just now hitting us and people need to be aware of that so they continue to take the proper precautions.” Swift said. 

Jim Wozniak, spokesman for Wellmont hospitals, said 116 cases of the flu had been diagnosed at the health system’s six hospitals since October. 

Wozniak said only 19 cases of the flu were confirmed between Feb. 22 and Feb. 25, but that number rose to 51 confirmed cases during the week of March 7.

“We do not have specific numbers for our urgent care facilities, but we have experienced increased numbers there the last couple of weeks as well,” Wozniak said in an email. 

Christen Minnick, with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, listed the flu as moderate but present in the Tri-Cities. 

“It’s gone up a little, but it will be getting to the point where cases will begin to decline,” Minnick said. “The flu shot seems to be effective for those who got it this year.” 

Cindy Lawson, supervisor of attendance and testing for Johnson City schools, said a few students were absent last week due to illness, but not an excessive amount. 

“Every flu season is different,” Swift said. “It’s really hard to define a normal flu season. I do think the vaccine coverage has been good this year so that probably played into this. But we are seeing a late increase.” 

Influenza reached epidemic proportions in December 2014 because the vaccine did not match the circulating influenza strain. Several officials claim this year’s vaccine has been a better match to the strain. 

MSHA saw approximately 593 cases of flu during the week of Christmas 2014 alone, compared to only 16 total cases were reported during the same span this year. 

It’s considered flu season peaks when between 100 and 200 cases are reported during a normal week. 

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