Flu cases declining in Mississippi but holiday bump may be on the way

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 30, 2022

The number of flu cases has begun to decline, but there could be a rise in cases after the holidays, Mississippi State Health Officer and local physician Dr. Dan Edney said Thursday.

“It (the flu) is not gone. It’s peaked and back on its way down again, but you never know until the week after Christmas what’s really going to happen because Thanksgiving and Christmas family activities always tend to stir it (the flu) up a bit,” Edney said. “So, we may see a bump again over the next seven days. But right now, it’s better and the hospitals are better, and we are not in the crunch.”

But that was not the case two weeks ago, Edney said, when the flu, along with RSV and COVID, were together challenging the state’s hospitals to provide care.

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“We were pretty concerned two weeks ago when we were dealing with RSV and flu was really getting angry and COVID started back up again. The hospital ICU beds became very tight statewide, and we were having difficulty getting patients moved to higher levels of care,” he said.

A lot of patients had to be transferred to out-of-state facilities, which Edney said, was aided by the Mississippi State Department of Health.

“The health department stepped in and facilitated transfers without making it mandatory like we had the last two winters,” Edney said, which helped during the surge in cases.

Things are better now, but it is not time to let your guard down.

“COVID is swinging back up. It’s not spiking on us, but the numbers are back up,” Edney said, and that’s without knowing about the number of cases due to home testing.

“Which is OK,” Edney said. “They (people) don’t have to report (a positive test). However, what is worrisome is a lot of people that have symptoms are just choosing not to test because they just don’t want to go through the COVID thing anymore.”

But Edney urges anyone that has either upper or lower respiratory symptoms to test.

“It may or may not be COVID,” he said, but if it is, “They are contagious and for the sake of people at higher risk – if you are 65 and older or are younger and have Type 1 Diabetes or have other health issues, it (COVID) could put you down – so you need to stay home for five days and wear a mask for the last five days. That’s just part of being a responsible member of a community.”

Currently, Edney said, on average three people die every day in Mississippi from COVID.

“So, the deaths have not gone away, they haven’t spiked like they have the last two winters, thank goodness, but we are having anywhere from 18 to 25 deaths per week and that’s people who are dying of COVID, not with COVID,” he said.

COVID is like the flu, Edney said, in that immunity doesn’t hold, which is why annual flu shots and COVID boosters are recommended.

“You can have the flu this year and get it again next year because it’s going to be a different strain and your antibody levels are going to drop, which is why you need to get a flu shot every year,” Edney said. “COVID is the same way. If it has been more than three of four months since you have had COVID and you don’t have the Bivalent booster,” then risks increase of getting it again.

The difference between the flu and getting a flu shot and COVID and getting a COVID booster is that the flu is seasonal and “COVID is every day,” Edney said.

The flu usually spikes anywhere from late October to mid-December and because the flu vaccine antibody levels hold for about six months, Edney said, if it is not administered too early it can protect against the first wave in the fall and the second in winter.

“You want to time the flu shot so you will have the most antibodies when you need them because. they are going to go away,” he said.

“Right now, we don’t have a COVID season. COVID season is every day. The numbers will go up depending on what’s going on in the community and then they will go back down again,” he said. “This is the first epidemic we have fought our way through that has just not gone away. The 1918 pandemic — there were spikes that occurred twice a year for about three years, but they went away. COVID goes up and it comes down, but it doesn’t go to zero. It is steadily mutating.”

For COVID to go away, Edney said, we will have come to a place where there is enough “community immunity to knock it down.”

“We don’t know what that number is, but it looks like it’s going to have to be a very high number like the measles, which was 97 percent immunity,” and at this point, we don’t have 90 percent solid immunity against COVID-19, he said.

Hence, safety measures should still be taken, including hand washing and wearing a mask if you have symptoms but test negative for either COVID or the flu.

“I don’t want to be at Kroger if somebody behind me is steadily coughing. It is just common courtesy at this point (to wear a mask), and masks do work — I don’t care what people believe or don’t believe,” Edney said. “And be careful when you are in big crowds of people you don’t know, and most important stay up to date with vaccinations.”

If one does test positive with either a home test or at a clinic, Paxlovid can be prescribed for COVID and Tamiflu for the flu, Edney said.

For the most up-to-date and best source of information, Edney advised residents to visit msdh.gov.

“You can find whatever information you want from flu to COVID to TB to HIV — whatever you want to know is going to be right there. We are a state agency that is insulated from state politics. We are not an executive branch agency. I work for the Board of Health which works independently. The legislation doesn’t control us, and the Governor doesn’t control us. We all work together but we are an independent agency that works for the benefit of Mississippians,” Edney said.