By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4) – According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu is now widespread in 46 states and this year in Colorado, cases are three-to-four times higher than previous years.
“We were seeing cases as early as November sporadically, but now it’s definitely at an epidemic phase,” said Dr. Andrew Walshak, Emergency Physician at Presbyterian/St. Lukes (PSL).
Since October, there have been more than 1500 flu hospitalizations in Colorado.
The CDC says a majority of cases are in patients over 65. Conversely, PSL says it’s seeing an influx of the flu and the rhino virus in younger patients.
LINK: Colorado Flu Report
“A lot of patients are being hospitalized with respiratory illness right now particularly in our pediatric units,” said Dr. Jason Baluwet, Pharmacy Director at PSL.
Adding to the stress, the uptick in flu cases combined with other respiratory issues, has resulted in a huge demand for anti-viral medication in pharmacies across the state.
“We’re noticing that Tamiflu for instance is flying off the shelves right now,” said Blauwet.
PSL says it has no fears of running out, but it is bracing for the peak of the flu season which is expected to hit in the next month.
Health experts say the flu season began early this year, and the vaccine has not been as effective treating the most common strain.
“The flu shot has multiple strains in it so it may not be a perfect match for one strain of flu, and it may be a better match for other strains of flu, but that’s no excuse not to get your flu shot every year,” said Walshak.
He believes one of the reasons the flu is so widespread this year is due to many people opting out of vaccinations.
“I think it was a lack of confidence in the flu shot. A majority of cases I’m seeing did not get a flu vaccine this year,” he said.
Another cause in the uptick has to do with the early arrival of the flu season. Those who had the flu before the holidays, likely traveled and spread it to relatives across the country.
Walshak says a person can be infectious up to a day or two before having symptoms.
“The flu droplets can spread at least three feet away from a person so you and I could be exchanging flu droplets. I hope not, but you get it,” Walshak told CBS4’s Jamie Leary
Walshak says he has been getting the flu vaccine since he was 8 years old and has never had the flu.
“Knock on wood never had the flu even though I work in a very flu laden environment.”
If you have been vaccinated and still get the flu, Walshak says the vaccine can still help lessen the severity and the duration.
“My theory is that the more vaccines you get in a lifetime for the flu, every season, the more you are protected long term,” he said.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.