Bay Area doctor explains what to expect in California as high flu activity returns to US

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As COVID has dominated headlines the past two years, concern about the flu has taken a backseat.

The nation saw the weakest flu season on record last year but new CDC data shows the flu is making a comeback in the U.S.

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Right now, other parts of the country are seeing pre-pandemic-like flu seasons.

Washington D.C. has some of the highest flu activity. The CDC says that now seven states also have high activity including New Mexico, Kansas, Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia and North Dakota.

California is not included in that, but Dr. Stanley Deresinski, an infection disease physician with Stanford Health Care says we may not be far behind.

"Flu comes later to California every season than to other parts of the country ordinarily," Dr. Deresinski said. "We haven't even gotten into the real peak influenza season here, which may not be until February."

RELATED: Experts expect normal US flu season after year off; hospitalizations rise, 2 child deaths reported

Childhood deaths have been one way flu seasons have been compared year to year.

The CDC says that in the 2018-2019 flu season 144 children died from the flu, 199 in the 2019-2020 season. During the last flu season, one child died.

Dr. Deresinski says more stringent COVID-19 measures likely had something to do with why last year wasn't as tragic.

Still, he says that because the flu wasn't as widespread last season, a big concern has been missing out on natural immunity.

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"Many people who get exposed to influenza never get ill, don't know about it, but they have some degree of immunity from that exposure," he said. "That pretty much probably didn't happen last year. So those people would be more at risk."

Other groups at risk include the elderly and the very young, those who are immunocompromised and pregnant.

Symptoms can include scratchy throat, cough, fever, body aches and headaches: all similar to COVID symptoms.

Dr. Deresinski says knowing whether or not you have the flu or COVID can't be determined by symptoms alone.

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"COVID can sometimes, like influenza present with almost no symptoms or no symptoms whatsoever, but can have exactly the same symptoms as in influenza," he said, "So you really can't tell, it really is a matter of being tested."

The good news is that if you've gotten your flu shot and are doing the right things to protect yourself from COVID, you're greatly reducing your risk of the flu.

"It's exactly the same protective measures," Deresinski said.
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