Doctors say uptick in flu cases 'makes sense' as face masks come off, encourage vaccination

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There may be relief of fewer COVID-19 cases, but now, there are growing cases of influenza.

"It's uncommon this late in the season to see flu numbers actually rising," said Emergency Medicine Dr. Ephriam Grimes. "Flu numbers are usually going down this time."

Grimes, at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago's Calumet Heights neighborhood, said it was not unexpected with masks coming off, but nonetheless, is a concern.

"Now, we've got a little fatigue and that fatigue can be dangerous because while you may be vaccinated against COVID, you may not be thinking about the flu, but you can still get the flu," Grimes said.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that "influenza activity remains highest the central and south-central parts of the country (Regions 6 and 7)" and "influenza activity is increasing in the northeastern regions (Regions 1 and 2)."

While the Chicago area is in Region 5, some healthcare professionals said they are seeing an increase.

"If we are not wearing masks, it makes sense that we are going to see an uptick of influenza," said Infection Control Dr. Jonathan Pinsky.

Pinksy, at Edward Hospital in Naperville, said it is an unusual flu season and patients have a lot to consider.

"It's tough now because the CDC guidelines aren't straightforward," Pinsky said. "They are telling people they don't need to wear masks, but there are still diseases out there and masks do prevent them."

Grimes encouraged people to get the flu vaccine.

"Flu kills thousands of people each year and we can't stress enough the importance of getting the flu vaccine in addition to the COVID vaccine," Grimes said.

The good news is that the most common strain of flu that is been detected is covered in this season's flu shot.
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