The 2021-22 flu season was notable not for the number of cases, which remained below pre-pandemic levels, but for the length of the season, which stretched into June.
While people can get the flu at any time of the year, the typical flu season runs from October through May, with the number of cases peaking locally between late December and February. Traditionally, the season ends in March and April, and the state Department of Health stops surveillance in May. But for last season, the state health department extended its seasonal reporting to the end of June due to “persistently elevated influenza activity.”
“There are often two major waves each year where there is a high incidence of flu,” said Kaitlin Pettine, a public health educator with the Genesee County Health Department.
However, during the last flu season, the second wave “occurred a little later than normal in the spring,” Pettine said.
“Each flu season is unique and unpredictable, so we can’t say this will happen in the future,” Pettine said. “People should always be careful around the flu and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves.”
Livingston County saw one of its highest individual weeks of flu cases in late May, when 64 cases were reported in the week ending May 21, its second-highest single-week total of the flu season. The county also reported 64 cases for the weekend of April 9 and a high of 70 cases for the week ending Dec. 18, according to data from the state health department.
More than one in three flu cases in the GLOW region occurred after May 7, when flu season traditionally ends. And Wyoming County actually saw more cases, 55, between May 7 and June 25, up from 46 in the previous 27 weeks.
Among the other GLOW counties, Genesee had 48 flu cases after May 7 and 134 before; Livingston reported 205 cases after May 7 and 359 before; and Orleans County had 35 cases after May 7 and 65 before.
When it was done, after 38 weeks of data, the GLOW region recorded a total of 947 flu cases. Among individual counties: Livingston County had the most flu cases, 564, followed by Genesee County, 182; Wyoming County, 101; and Orleans County, 100.
“I think we may move into a more regular flu season next year, however it can be unpredictable,” Livingston County Public Health Director Jennifer Rodriguez said.
It should be noted that the data reflects only laboratory-confirmed cases and that not everyone who experiences flu symptoms gets tested.
Surveillance data from the state Department of Health showed steady declines through January and low rates in February, but laboratory-confirmed influenza cases and hospitalizations increased steadily since March, with significant increases in laboratory-confirmed cases throughout April.
The familiar seasonal pattern of common viruses has been disrupted during the pandemic, prompting clinicians to rethink routines and giving researchers an opportunity to discover how behavioral changes, such as masking, are contributing to the changes. .
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US experienced a sharp drop in influenza rates due to social distancing and mask-wearing measures.
The 947 total cases in the GLOW region for 2021-22 compares to 32 from the previous season, which was completely reduced during the pandemic. During the 2019-20 flu season, which coincided with the pandemic, the region reported 2,013 cases of influenza, compared to 1,719 cases during the 2018-19 season.
“The decline in flu cases for the 2020-21 flu season was likely related to our altered social norms and mask wearing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deborah L. Head, RN Wyoming County Health Department community health clinic.
During the 2021-22 season, such practices were relaxed, which may have contributed to the rise in flu cases, Pettine said.
Rodriguez said people should continue to be mindful of going out when they are sick, exposing themselves to large crowds to prevent the spread of illness.
The flu is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. It can feel like a common cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, while the flu tends to come on suddenly.
People at higher risk of developing complications from the flu include young children, pregnant women and those within two weeks of giving birth, people older than 65, those with weakened immune systems and some chronic illnesses, and those who are obese.
The CDC and other health experts recommend an annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions. Vaccination is the best defense against the flu. And while the flu shot doesn’t provide complete protection against the virus, the goal is to prevent serious reactions or hospitalizations.
“We cannot predict the future and what the flu season will be like, but we encourage residents to get a flu shot each year to reduce the risk of serious illness and practice preventative public health measures,” Pettine said.
Traditionally, flu season peaks locally between late December and February and ends in March and April. The state Department of Health stops surveillance in May. But for last season, the state health department extended its seasonal reporting to the end of June due to “persistently elevated influenza activity.”