Flu hospitalizations on the rise in Middle Tennessee


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed Tennessee in the “high” category for flu activity, with the data collected from the week ending Christmas Day. The statistics come as the area also sees an increase in flu hospitalizations.

“Clearly, influenza is waking up around the country and right here in Tennessee. Also, we’re seeing a gradual increase in patients hospitalized with influenza. That’s the most serious aspect of influenza, influenza and its complications,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr. William Schaffner, professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee have a CDC-sponsored influenza surveillance system where they report to the CDC about what’s happening in the local area. According to Dr. Schaffner, there’s an increase in influenza hospitalizations and laboratory-diagnosed influenza. It started principally on the East Coast and is moving gradually West.

“Influenza has certainly hit middle Tennessee,” he said. “The major complication of influenza is pneumonia, a different kind of pneumonia than you get with COVID, and pneumonia that can that often needs treatment with antibiotics. It’s a complicated bacterial pneumonia on top of the viral infection, that is influenza.”

The doctor went on to explain that this is the time of the year when flu usually makes its presence known. It starts in December and then gathers steam in January, often peaking in February before it begins to gradually recede.

The flu cases and hospitalizations are mimicking what’s being seen among COVID-19 cases in Middle Tennessee and across the country.

“Influenza and COVID can present to the doctor with very, very similar symptoms. They’re difficult, if not impossible to distinguish clinically,” Dr. Schaffner explained. “So we as we care for patients, we’ll be doing a lot of testing, testing for COVID testing for influenza, because we do have different kinds of treatments available for each of these viral infections.”

They’re encouraging people to get the flu vaccine, adding that you can get one at the same time as COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I would emphasize it’s not too late to get your flu vaccine,” Dr. Schaffner said. “We’ve been so preoccupied with COVID and COVID vaccine, we’ve kind of forgotten about influenza. And the recommendations are very simple. Everyone, everyone six months and older should be vaccinated against influenza each and every year. The influenza vaccine is a good but not perfect vaccine. Each year, it prevents thousands of infections. But even if you get vaccinated and still get influenza, your illness will be less severe, you’re less apt to need to be hospitalized, and you’re less apt to die from influenza. And influenza can make even a normal young person and put them into the hospital within 48 hours. So it’s a nasty infection.”

He added that it’s especially important for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine.

“Women who are pregnant who get influenza are much more apt to have the complications,” Dr. Schaffner said. “And then there’s also a bonus. When the woman gets vaccinated, she passes some of that protection on to her baby. And so when the baby is born, during the first six months of its life, there’s protection against influenza and the vaccine influenza vaccine during pregnancy is safe.”

CLICK HERE to find the closest place to get a flu vaccine in Tennessee.

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