ALBANY — The flu season is off and running.
More people have tested positive for influenza so far this autumn than in any in the past decade.
Whether the flu is more prevalent or just being detected more often because of hypervigilance over COVID is not immediately clear — the state Department of Health Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report does not make the distinction.
However, the public health system also was on high alert for respiratory infections in late 2020, and very few flu tests came back positive then.
The 2020-2021 flu season was a nonstarter, with only a tiny fraction of the normal number of infections.
While the state’s attention is clearly still on COVID-19, state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett reminded people to be aware of flu season during a press conference with Gov. Kathy Hochul Thursday.
“We hardly saw any flu last season,” Bassett said. “But this year we’re already ahead of where we were in the last big flu season two years ago. So we’re concerned also about flu and the fact that we have both of these in our midst.”
For the 10 weeks ended Dec. 11, some 11,437 tests have come back positive statewide for influenza. In the preceding 10 years, the highest number of positive tests in the same period was 4,987.
The upstate hotspots so far this year have been Onondaga County — 716 confirmed cases — and Tompkins County, which at 242 cases is higher per-capita.
Tompkins County is also currently home to the state’s highest per-capita rate of new COVID infections.
Dr. Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners, has said there is concern in the medical community about a potential “twindemic” this winter: flu and COVID infections coming simultaneously in numbers and severity great enough to strain a healthcare system weakened by staff shortages.
The 2020-2021 influenza season was a major relief, he added, allowing caregivers to focus on the surge of people hospitalized with COVID. St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany had a total of seven flu admissions for the whole season, compared with up to seven in a single day at the peak of a normal season.
Masking and social distancing may have helped defeat the flu in 2020-2021, Hanks said, but a COVID-weary population is not taking either precaution as often this year.
Here are county-level results for the ten weeks ended Dec. 11, 2021, with highest total in the previous decade in parentheses, as reported by the state Department of Health:
- Albany 124 (41)
- Fulton 10 (11)
- Montgomery 12 (10)
- Rensselaer 40 (21)
- Saratoga 154 (40)
- Schenectady 23 (24)
- Schoharie 8 (3)