While COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Southwest Mississippi, medical professionals in Pike County have noticed fewer than usual flu cases this year, possibly due to COVID-19 precautions.
Dr. Luke Lampton at Magnolia Clinic hasn’t seen a significant outbreak in Pike County. There had been only two positive flu cases treated at his clinic as of Thursday.
“In past years by the second week of January we would have seen 30 cases. Of course that varies year to year,” Lampton said.
Keith Guy, owner of Guy’s Pharmacy, has noticed the decrease in flu medicine prescriptions, too.
“Whether it’s the masks or what, we’re not seeing as much flu,” he said. “It was just rampant last year and nothing this year. Flu, that was always the main topic this time of year, but it’s like an afterthought now with COVID.”
Between his two pharmacies, Guy could only account for dispensing one prescription of Tamiflu, the go-to anti-viral medicine for most pharmacists, from the McComb pharmacy and none at the Summit location as of Tuesday.
“That is highly unusual,” he said.
Donald McDaniel, nurse practitioner at Simply Well Family Medicine in Summit, tests patients for COVID-19, strep throat and the flu and has seen a decrease in usual flu cases.
He partly credits COVID-19 precautions. That virus and the flu are transmitted in similar ways, so the methods of reducing transmission basically work the same for both.
“People are just being more cognizant all around,” McDaniel said.
There’s been a drop in flu shots at Guy’s Pharmacy over the past two months as well.
“It was really brisk early in the season — August, September, October — but we’re not doing nearly as many as we were. I guess not seeing it, people don’t have the fear of it,” Guy said. “The flu virus didn’t go away.”
In fact, flu season may just be late this year, meaning the public should remain cautious. December through February is often flu season’s peak.
“They’ve detected flu in May and June in past years. The persistence of the flu can be seen until summertime,” said Lampton.
He is continuing to urge patients to get not only the COVID-19 vaccine when they’re able but also their pneumonia shots and flu vaccines. It isn’t too late, especially if flu season has barely begun.
“If the season lasts until May or June you can see where if you get it too early and you don’t get a booster flu shot, that could be worse than getting it in January. I’d go ahead and get it now,” Lampton said.
“It does look like it’ll be a late or a light flu season, but we’ve had bad outbreaks in February and March before so we need to be vigilant.”
Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center infection preventionist Tammy Bacot recommends that people planning on getting vaccines for flu and COVID-19 pace them.
Moderna, the producer of the COVID-19 vaccine that SMRMC staff have been given, recommends not getting any other vaccine within two weeks of the two COVID-19 Moderna doses.
Lampton is encouraging mask wearing, small gatherings, social distancing and hand washing, all of which mitigate COVID-19 and the flu.
“Things like the wearing of masks and the improved public health hygiene such as social distancing and hand washing is decreasing the spread of the flu,” Lampton said.
“While I think the improved mitigation factors the public is using are suppressing the flu coming out in large numbers, there may still be a late season.”
The quiet flu season in Pike County is reflected around the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the week ending Dec. 26, 2020, clinics nationwide only reported 74 cases of flu. There had been 877 total cases reported since late September 2020.