Flu season is off to historically severe start

Flu-related hospitalizations are higher so far this year than during every previous season to this point since 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Adults 65 and older and young children under age 5 have the highest current rates of hospitalization for flu illnesses, data shows.

“We're definitely seeing that within UW Medicine hospitals, as well,” said Dr. John Lynch, an infectious diseases specialist and medical director of infection prevention and control at Harborview Medical Center. “At each of our facilities, we're seeing high numbers of influenza patients with a variety of presentations, from mild to very severe.” 

As of Dec. 8, approximately 100 inpatients were being treated for flu or COVID-19 illnesses across UW Medicine’s hospitals.  

Lynch says flu cases normally wouldn’t start to rise until the end of December, but this season’s wave emerged in late November. He encourages everyone to use the “Swiss cheese model” for protection against respiratory illnesses such as flu, COVID-19 and RSV, among others. 

“It's multiple layers: getting vaccinated, getting boosted, staying home when you're feeling sick, getting tested for COVID and connecting to care, if that's helpful for you,” said Lynch. “Stay at home when you're sick and stay away from other folks.” 

Receiving the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, he said, is key to lowering the current transmission of that virus. CDC data shows only 12.7% of eligible Americans have received the latest dose. 

“Getting boosted is really important, and we know we're missing around 90% of people, particularly folks who are at high risk for disease progression." 

Learn more about receiving a flu shot or a COVID-19 booster from UW Medicine. 

Download broadcast-ready soundbites with Dr. John Lynch discussing this year's early, steep start of flu season.

UW Medicine