For the last two years, the healthcare system has rightfully been concerned about COVID-19 and all of its variants. Influenza and other viruses took a back seat; in fact, last year’s flu season was essentially non-existent. Recent reports have indicated that flu cases in many states continued to be minimal with as little as 400 hospitalizations from influenza per week and throughout the summer months.
With fall in full swing and winter quickly approaching, predictions are flooding in that we will not be spared another year. Researchers are warning that healthcare providers, especially pediatricians, can expect the sick calls to once again rise. Experts are worried that the school-age population will be at high risk for complications from the flu this year. In addition, many infants and toddlers who were born during the pandemic have not had the opportunity to build natural immunity to seasonal viruses. Because they have been masked and socially distanced from their peers, their immunity to viruses is limited and may even be non-existent.
As cold and flu season — and probably another COVID surge — nears, pediatricians should aim to help reduce the spread of this potentially deadly virus while working to keep patients in the medical home. In this blog, we’ll share the details when it comes to predictions and offer suggestions for handling the upcoming cold and flu season.
What Can Pediatricians Expect This Cold and Flu Season?
To gain insight into what the upcoming flu season will bring to the United States, we can examine the number of cases being reported in Australia. Because it’s located in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia has its flu season opposite ours. This year, Australia’s season started earlier than normal and has had three times as many cases as usual, making it their worst flu season in five years. Their numbers are concerning to experts here as our season typically mimics theirs.
In addition, scientists are anticipating another COVID surge this winter, leading to a “twindemic,” during which both flu- and COVID-related hospitalizations would be high enough to put yet another strain on the healthcare system. However, some experts believe that both viruses will not peak at the same time due to a phenomenon called “viral interference.” This phrase means that an infection with one virus reduces the transmission of a second virus.
There are also a lot of concerns about the lack of preventative measures that will be taken against the flu this year. Historically, about 51 percent of the population receives an annual influenza vaccination. With the anti-vaccine sentiment lingering from COVID, researchers are worried that even fewer individuals will opt for flu shots. As we know, unvaccinated individuals are at a higher risk for serious complications from the flu should they contract it.
How Can Pediatricians Help Prevent the Spread of the Flu?
Flu precautions are not unlike the COVID ones we have all come to know since 2020. As a pediatrician, your practice plays a crucial role in limiting the transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses this fall and winter. Here are three ways you can help to reduce the spread of the flu in your community.
It seems that many people have abandoned most of the precautions that were implemented during COVID. Wearing masks, limiting travel, avoiding indoor crowds, and isolating when ill are becoming things of the past. However, these precautions should still be considered as influenza makes a comeback.
Effective precautions for influenza are similar to COVID-19. Take time to educate your patients and their families to follow these steps:
- Wear masks, N95 masks if possible.
- Avoid crowded indoor spaces.
- Stay home when sick.
Remind them about the upcoming holiday season and how following these simple guidelines may give them a better chance of enjoying festivities with their loved ones.
Vaccinations are the most effective tool at our disposal to prevent the spread of influenza. Based on the reports from Australia, this year’s flu vaccine is a good match for the predominantly circulating strain: H3N2.
The CDC recommends that every family member, six months and older, in a household be vaccinated. Offering flu shots within your office setting can help to address racial and ethnic disparities that sometimes prevent access to vaccinations. Continue to employ creative solutions like online scheduling and curbside vaccine clinics, where your nurses go to the family’s vehicle and children stay in their car seat.
With predictions that suggest a dramatic increase in respiratory illness, it’s possible that your young patients will have flu-like symptoms that require evaluation — even if they’ve taken all the recommended precautions. Still, you can reduce expensive emergency room visits and, most importantly, keep your patients in the medical home.
By implementing a nurse triage system, your pediatric practice can serve your patients when they get sick after hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Anytime After Hours is a high-quality care solution and triage system that brings patients back into the medical home by using phone, telehealth, and video services. When a patient’s parent calls, they speak directly with a nurse who has a minimum of five years of emergency room or telephone triage experience. Nurses also use Schmitt-Thompson Protocols to triage your patients, offering reassurance to worried family members. When needed, calls can be routed to the on-call pediatrician for a video visit or scheduled for an in-person visit the next day.
Are you ready to learn more about how Anytime After Hours can help you manage the upcoming cold and flu season? For more information, contact us today and request a consultation.