In normal, non-pandemic times, the flu season occurs in the fall and winter months, with outbreaks peaking between December and February. But this year, there’s a bit of a summer surge in the flu, partly blamed on most people letting down their guard – in terms of masking and social distancing – as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to ease.
Nonetheless, the summer of 2022 is seeing upticks in respiratory viruses, including mild cases of COVID-19 where symptoms could be mistaken for the flu or even a bad cold that doesn’t rise to the level of influenza.
In a recent Facebook LIVE , hosted by Baptist Health spokesperson Olga Villaverde, experts addressed the curious case of the current “Summer flu.” Joining the panel discussion were: Madeline Camejo, M.S., Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer and vice president of pharmacy services for Baptist Health South Florida; Ladan Pourmasiha, D.O., a family medicine physician and medical director for Baptist Health Urgent Care , and Raymond Latanae Parker, M.D.,  pulmonologist with Baptist Health Quality Network.
Driven by both COVID-19 and increasing cases of the flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended the use of a higher-dose, or adjuvanted flu vaccines, over standard-dose flu vaccines for adults 65 years and older. “People 65 years and older are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications compared with young, healthy adults. This increased risk is due in part to changes in immune defenses with increasing age,” the CDC states.
Dr. Camejo, Baptist Health’s chief pharmacy officer, said the upcoming flu season’s vaccine is currently being produced.
“It takes about six months to actually make the vaccine,” explains Dr. Camejo. “So, it starts in February and then it’s released to September. So, that’s why we always get our flu vaccines during the fall.”
She adds that there are several types of vaccines. “You have the injectable flu vaccine that can be given to those six months of age and older – and for pregnant women who want to protect their fetus,” said Dr. Camejo. “And then you have the nasal spray, which is only really given to very healthy non-pregnant individuals. And then, we always want to give our seniors, anyone who’s 65 and older, what we call the high-dose flu vaccine, which helps protect them from getting severely ill. It’s a much better dose. As we get older, we our immune system doesn’t work as well. So, we want to give them additional protection.”
As far as the summer surge of the flu and other viruses, Dr. Pourmasiha explains that there’s a few factors in play.
“One of the reasons is because we spent the past two years in COVID where we were masking, socially distancing, staying home and working from home,” said Dr. Pourmasiha. “And so that prevented us from getting COVID, but also prevented us from getting these other viruses. And another reason is just that the Omicron surge we went through in January, which pushed our flu season to typically start now in March, versus where we were seeing it earlier before.
“And then the third reason is just the vaccine overall, where we may not have that perfect match this year — where some people are just not getting the flu vaccine. And then the people who are getting the vaccine got it so early that maybe, at this point, it’s not preventing them from getting the virus. And they’re not only getting it, but they’re also spreading it.”
Dr. Parker outlines some common symptoms that are linked to current respiratory infections.
“Flu symptoms are very classic in that you have an abrupt onset,” explains Dr. Parker. “It could happen within an hour — fever cough, and malaise. And that’s not typical of other viruses. We’re seeing more hospitalized patients with the flu in the past two months. But none of them are that sick … they’re not going to ICU. These patients generally have some kind of underlying condition and that’s why they’re in the hospital.
How does somebody know if it’s COVID, the flu or something else?
“You won’t know unless you’re tested,” said Dr. Parker. “But they have similar symptoms (the flu and COVID). The interesting thing is that, again, the flu is very abrupt with onset (of symptoms, ) But they have similar symptoms. You need to get tested. If you’re have any kind of underlying condition, you should go to an urgent care to get tested.”
Learn more for the full Resource LIVE: The Curious Case of Surging Summer Sickness .