How bad will this flu season be? Experts don’t know

The flu season is underway
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 7:00 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 9:31 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - During the pandemic, it seems like the flu was put on the back burner as COVID-19 took center stage. However, the flu was still circulating.

Alaska Immunization Program Manager Matthew Bobo said last year’s flu season in Alaska saw less cases than normal.

According to a State of Alaska Epidemiology influenza surveillance bulletin, only 124 positive tests were reported in the 2020–21 flu season, which compares to approximately 4,000–7,000 cases during each of the past five flu seasons.

The bulletin also states that Alaska reported two flu-related deaths during the 2020-21 flu season. The state reported 11 flu-related deaths in the 2019-20 flu season.

“Each flu season is different and it’s hard to predict even one flu season,” Bobo said.

He said the decrease in flu cases could have been for many reasons. He said a contributing factor could be the pandemic precautions people were taking.

In the bulletin, officials said low flu cases in the state are likely caused by the virus’ transmissibility being subdued by COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as social distancing, wearing masks and quarantining. However, the bulletin also stated it’s “likely that testing specifically for influenza was occurring at lower levels than during a typical season.”

“As people were staying inside more and not going out-and-about, there was less influenza circling,” Bobo said.

According to Bobo, it is important to prevent getting sick since influenza can lead to hospitalization.

He said the flu season starts in late August and goes through March or April, but Alaska sees the flu all year long, adding that it is mainly because of tourists visiting in the summer.

The flu vaccine is available now. Bobo said last year’s flu vaccination rate was a little bit higher than a typical year, with about 40% of Alaskans vaccinated.

Bobo recommends getting the shot before October is over. He said young children and pregnant women in their third trimester should get the shot as soon as possible; however, older people should wait to get it closer to the end of October.

“If they get the vaccine earlier than that, the immunity can wain,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more information from the State of Alaska Epidemiology bulletin.

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