The week after the state announced the first flu death of the season, the number of confirmed flu cases dropped for two weeks in a row, leading to hopes that infections may have plateaued.
The drop to 1,014 cases for the week ending Dec. 17, follows a small decline from 1,125 cases the previous week and 1,154 cases the week of Dec. 3.
That comes just as schools are closing, people are traveling and holiday gatherings are kicking into high gear. Those year-end get-togethers traditionally trigger a rise in flu cases.
“We prefer not to see an increase in influenza cases; however, it is a risk we expect during holiday gatherings,” said Timothy Turane, media relations coordinator for the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Worries over flu adds to fears of a tripledemic that could be caused by flu, COVID-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) that health officials worry will flood clinics and hospitals, delaying care for the sickest.
First 2022-23 flu death
The Delaware Division of Public Health announced Friday that a Kent County man died from flu. The state does not identify victims, but said he was between the ages of 55-64.
“The first flu-related death of the season reminds us just how dangerous the flu can be,” said Dr. Rick Hong, interim director of the division. “Influenza started early this season and has been very active.”
So far, the state said, while flu cases continue to be high, flu hospitalizations remain relatively low. As of Dec. 3, the most recently available data for flu hospitalizations, there had been 47 hospitalizations for the season, the state said Friday.
The number of RSV cases is declining, Turane said.
While the number of COVID-19 cases have fluctuated, “lately we have seen an upward trend,” Turane said. “Although New Castle County has been in the green community level, Kent and Sussex Counties have escalated to yellow over the past weeks.”
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The state’s job of tracking COVID has been made more complicated by the number of people who test positive at home, but never seek any formal testing or medical attention so are not reported to the state.
Flu is hard to pin down precisely, too. The state reports the number of lab-confirmed flu cases, but the majority of flu cases do not get confirmed in a lab, meaning there’s vastly more cases in the state than reported in Delaware’s influenza dashboard.
The state already has seen 6,738 confirmed cases of flu, more than the entire 2021-22 season, largely because people were still wearing masks in public and staying away from crowds. That didn’t slow down the COVID-19 rise during and after the 2021 holidays.
Hospitalization and death from the flu can occur in previously healthy individuals, though persons with underlying health conditions are at significantly increased risk for serious outcomes, the state warned.
“Because hospitals, walk-ins, urgent cares, and physicians’ offices are already taxed with sick patient visits, we must do everything we can to prevent adding more stress to the system,” Hong said.
“Getting your flu vaccine is a very simple way to help yourself and the overall health care system.”
Flu vaccines are still available. About 287,000 — right at 30% of the state’s population — have been given in Delaware so far this season, the state said.
Seniors ages 65 and older have the highest vaccination rate of any age group in Delaware with about 65% vaccinated. That represents more than 40%of the state’s total vaccinated population.
While flu cases continue to be high, flu hospitalizations remain relatively low. As of Dec. 3, the most recently available data for flu hospitalizations, there have been 47 hospitalizations for the season to date.
Delaware seems to be avoiding the spread of Strep A infections. That bacterial illness has killed 94 people in England, including 24 children, and at least two children in the U.S.
“While we are aware of strep throat infections circulating in the community, we are not seeing a significant increase from what is typical this time of year,” Turane said.
Flu, RSV and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses that can have similar symptoms.
Common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, and several others. Testing is needed to confirm if you are sick with these viruses. If you or a family member need to get tested for the flu, DPH recommends contacting your primary health care provider.
If you can’t get in to see your doctor, most urgent care clinics can test and help prescribe influenza antiviral drugs to help. Antiviral drugs work best when started early, such as one to two days after your flu symptoms begin.
When treatment is started within 1-2 days after flu symptoms begin, influenza antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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