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Tennessee is hit with an early severe flu season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee is one of four states in the CDC’s highest category for the spread of the flu.

Along with Georgia, South Carolina and the District of Columbia, hospital visits for respiratory illnesses, including fever plus a cough or sore throat, are “very high” in Tennessee, according to CDC data.

“This is the worst flu season we’ve had since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic,” said Dr. James Antoon, Associate Vanderbilt Professor at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital. “We’re not sure why that is. Influenza is highly unpredictable from season to season, but it is likely that the pandemic measures that have resulted in much less influenza and RSV circulating in recent years have resulted in much lower levels of immunity in children.”

dr Antoon says while RSV cases in Nashville have plateaued in recent days, he’s seeing a spike in flu cases.

“We know we’re having an early and very severe flu season right now, but we don’t know if that will wear off or continue during our typical flu season,” he said.

As the holidays approach and families get together, Dr. Antoon worried about the possibility of these respiratory viruses being passed from children to grandparents.

“RSV also has a high burden on the elderly and those over 65. It is an underestimated cause of lower respiratory tract disease in the elderly. And just like the flu, we see the greatest burden of RSV in the rear ends, in children under five and people over 65,” he explained.

dr Antoon said thankfully this season’s flu vaccine is proving highly effective against the current strain and COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective in preventing death and serious illness.

However, it is still unclear what will happen to this “triple disease” in the coming months.

“What we don’t know is what’s going to happen with COVID — whether it will peak like it did last year, or whether it will be surpassed by the flu and stay low this year,” he said.

Currently, says Dr. Antoon, the children’s hospital is busy but not short of beds or ventilators like other children’s hospitals across the country.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 13% of bunk beds, 21% of pediatric intensive care beds and 44% of ventilators are occupied.

“One good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that we’ve done an amazing job here at Vanderbilt streamlining a lot of services, both in the ER and in the hospital, to get kids out when they’re ready and kids.” inside if they need to be in the hospital,” he explained.

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However, whether they can keep beds and ventilators available will depend in part on the precautions people take this holiday season.