TOLLAND, Conn. — Connecticut health officials are starting to watch for flu cases in the state as the colder months approach.
Rob Miller said it's hard to predict how the season will be but said it will be "different" than recent years. He's the health director of the Eastern Highlands Health District covering ten municipalities in Tolland and Windham Counties from Scotland to Bolton.
"In our efforts to suppress COVID-19, we were effective in suppressing many of the other respiratory illnesses," he said. "We could be looking at another challenging winter."
Flu rates were lower in 2020 and 2021 because of the safety precautions put in place during the pandemic including mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. He said the relaxation of those efforts may drive up cases.
"While COVID is now relatively under control, we still have these other emerging respiratory diseases that we now really need to pay attention to and take precautions for," he said.
Michelle Grous said she's nervous about the upcoming season. This will be her first time getting a flu vaccine because she feels it's important to get this year.
"I think it’s going to add to an increase in cases for sure. We’ve definitely been protecting ourselves in excess over the last couple of years so now that we’ve pulled back on masking, and we’re more than okay with going out in crowds, we’re more inclined to get sick where we may not have in the past," the Tolland resident said.
The CDC said flu cases are still low in Connecticut but, just across the border, New York is high. Miller said it's a concern that will spread into Connecticut because of how many people live and work between the two.
Respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, is also a bigger concern so far this year. The virus is impacting children in the state and causing some hospitals to near capacity.
Miller said the combination of RSV, the flu, and COVID-19 may put a strain on healthcare systems. He encourages anyone six months and older to get vaccinated. He said people can get flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.
"Vaccine clinics are widely available, vaccines are widely available right now. You can go to any pharmacy, your primary care provider," he said.
He said the state is "overdue" for an increase in flu cases this winter, given the two previous mild ones. Similar to COVID-19, the flu can have a greater impact on kids, older folks, and those with underlying health conditions.
"From someone who recently had COVID, I’m definitely going to protect myself and mask up a little bit more than I may have in the past," Grous said.
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