Utah health experts urge vaccines as spike in flu cases continues

SALT LAKE CITY — A spike in flu cases this past week has many health experts concerned, advising people to get their flu shots now if they haven’t already.

“We’re seeing increased cases of three different viral illnesses — RSV, flu and COVID-19 — which is leading toward more hospitalizations, especially for children, right now,” said Dr. Payal Patel, an infections disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare. “These are things that we do see every year, but this year we’ve seen RSV early, flu earlier than we usually see, and more flu and RSV than usual.”

Data from Intermountain’s germwatch.org site reveals that last week’s number of cases was higher than weeks past and higher than it’s been in months, and the map below shows nearly all of the state impacted with a “high” rate of flu activity.

“So, we’re certainly seeing flu in the emergency room,” said Dr. Marion Bishop, an emergency room physician at Brigham City Community & Cache Valley Hospital. “I take care of people almost every time I go to the ER who have been vaccinated and have influenza, and who have not been vaccinated and have influenza — and I would much rather have vaccinated influenza; it’s a much milder disease.”

Both doctors advise Utahns to stay home if you or someone in the family isn’t feeling well this holiday season. They believe many people have essentially let their guards down at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before we had the COVID vaccines, everyone was worried,” Dr. Patel explained, “So I think that we were all doing a better job of, you know, washing our hands, staying away from people.”

Dr. Bishop said if you’ve been sick for some time, it could be beneficial to test to determine if you’re dealing with flu, RSV, COVID or even strep. That can allow health care professionals to better treat you, he said.

Patel and Bishop both emphasized the need to vaccinate this season, saying it’s not too late if you haven’t yet had the flu shot.

“If you’re on the fence or you know somebody in your family that’s on the fence,” Dr. Patel said, “I would say now is the time to go get your flu shot.”

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