SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New concerns from health experts arise this winter as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain at the top of the mind. There's the worry that the flu could make a brutal return.
"I can tell you as an emergency physician and a health care professional, that we get scared with flu season," said Dr. Laleh Gharahbaghian, process improvement director for the Stanford Adult Emergency Department. "We anticipate a much higher volume of patients that come into our emergency departments. There will be a rise of cases for those vulnerable populations, which also include the elderly population, and the very young. There will be increased hospitalizations and increased deaths."
In the United States, during the flu season between Sept. 28, 2020, and May 22, 2021, the CDC reported that of the 818,939 respiratory specimens tested by clinical laboratories, 1,675 were positive for an influenza virus -- that's 0.2%
One main possibility they credit for the improvements is COVID-19 precautions, like mask-wearing, reduced travel, and social distancing.
But those mitigation measures aren't the same this year.
"There are fewer masks, particularly in schools, and some workforces as well," Gharahbaghian said. "Social distancing has become a thing of the past for the large majority of the population in the country, and of course, in the Bay Area, as well."
UCSF professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong says part of why health experts are especially concerned this season is because of what's happened in other parts of the world.
"We usually look at places that have winter before we do like Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and they've all been seeing a higher number of cases than even before the pandemic," Chin-Hong said. "So I think we're all worried for the right reasons, but we shouldn't be fearful because, again, we have these tools to help protect ourselves."
Experts also encourage other mitigations.
"Wash hands thoroughly, get vaccinated against both COVID and flu, and avoid touching your eyes, your mouth, without washing your hands," Gharahbaghian said, "Really, what COVID precautions have taught us about how to avoid the spread of any viruses is by doing really good hand hygiene and safe measures."
One other main tip from experts: stay informed.
"Make sure that you know if the prevalence of flu or COVID or any other virus is running rampant in your community," Gharahbaghian said. "So that you can make the safety measures and precautions and decisions to protect yourself and protect your loved ones."
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