Flu activity lower than normal, doctors encourage Hoosiers to get flu shots

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INDIANAPOLIS – Health experts are seeing a promising trend in the early stages of this flu season.

Across the nation, the CDC is reporting lower-than-normal flu activity.  The CDC’s latest weekly influenza report shows Indiana is listed in the “low” category for influenza-like illnesses (ILI), while much of the nation is listed as “minimal.”

Local health experts say they’re also seeing a slow start to the flu season.  I.U. Health Primary Care Physician, Dr. Anthony Zabel says his office has not treated any flu-positive patients so far this season.

“We would normally have seen a handful,” Dr. Zabel said.  “Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the year, but it is still very early.”

One prevailing thought among experts is that the fight against COVID-19 may also be slowing the spread of the flu.

“We’re hopeful that some of the precautions that people are using to fight COVID, such as wearing a mask and socially distancing, will help reduce the number of flu cases we see,” said Marion County Public Health Department Immunization and Infectious Disease Coordinator, Melissa McMasters.  

“It makes sense, because they’re both respiratory viruses and are going to be spread similar ways with respiratory droplets and aerosols and that kind of stuff,” Dr. Zabel said.  “Wearing a mask regularly, washing your hands, not touching your face, those will help prevent the flu just as well as they prevent COVID-19.”

While the early signs are promising for the start of the season, the CDC report cautions that COVID-19 concerns may affect some people’s decision whether to seek medical care for flu-like symptoms and the early data should be interpreted with caution.

“Don’t let the fear of COVID make you stay home when you really are sick and need medical attention,” McMasters said.

McMasters and Zabel agree it’s premature to draw conclusions about whether COVID-19 precautions are affecting the flu season.

“It’s way too early to tell if that is going to have a significant impact, but it certainly could,” McMasters said.

“Fingers crossed, hopefully the flu numbers stay low and perhaps we’ve learned a little bit about respiratory infection control,” Dr. Zabel said.

Health officials also caution that a lighter-than-normal start to the flu season does not mean people should skip getting their flu shot this year.

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