While the majority of Americans have shed their face masks and COVID cases have declined, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that flu cases are on the rise.
Flu in the Spring
The CDC’s most recent flu report shows that cases of the flu are on the rise across the country, and hospital admissions tied to the illness have increased over the past several weeks.
There have been at least 3.1 million flu illnesses, 31,000 hospitalizations and 1,800 deaths from the flu this season, according to the CDC.
“We are concerned because this is usually the time that our flu season is winding down, but we are seeing this uptick in cases, and it could be tied to people’s behavior: taking off their masks and returning to some of their more normal activities,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, a health officer from Oregon explains.
The flu season typically peaks between December and February.
“Like the rest of the country, last year, we saw very little flu,” Sidelinger adds. “That wasn’t because the flu virus disappeared. But those measures that people took to combat COVID — wearing their masks, limiting their gathering, trying to move things outside where spread of respiratory viruses is harder and is less easy — certainly limited flu.”
Influenza A H3N2 is the most common flu virus this season. States in the central and south-central regions of the country have the highest number of cases.
“I have been tracking recent influenza activity nationally and locally. We are not surprised that influenza activity is increasing,” Dr. Angela Branche, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, wrote in an email.
“I’m a little surprised that it’s still mostly H3N2 infections and not influenza B. I might have expected an influenza B wave this late in the flu season,” Branche adds.
Does COVID play a role?
Branche says the rolling back of COVID-19 mitigation measures may play a role in the increase of flu activity.
“Because H3N2 has remained in circulation, even if at low levels, for the last several months, I would think that the current