RICHMOND, Va. — After a quiet season in 2020, flu cases are starting to rise across Virginia with the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) seeing widespread flu activity.
In the 2021-2022 flu season so far, Virginia has seen nearly 598 cases. Flu-like illnesses make up about 3.3% of all emergency department and urgent care center visits.
The 2020-2021 flu season was the lightest on record, with only one reported child death from the flu nationwide. There have been two reported child deaths so far this season.
"We know that the flu is spreading, and the flu does have higher transmission currently this year," said Cat Long with the Richmond-Henrico Health District.
According to VDH data, people who are 24 or younger have been the most likely to seek care for flu symptoms, with those under age four making up the majority of those hospital and urgent care visits.
Early data also suggests fewer people are getting the flu shot this year compared to last year.
"Getting the flu shot and making sure that you're healthy can help make sure that we can keep hospital beds open for people who have either COVID-19 or something else that comes up, an injury or another illness that folks might need health care for," Long explained.
Long notes the flu shot is 40% to 60% effective at preventing illness.
"40 to 60% effective is better than is better than nothing," she said. "You can get the COVID vaccine and the flu shot at the same time, and unfortunately, you can get COVID and flu-like illnesses at the same time or back-to-back. So getting those two shots will help you help protect yourself and others from respiratory illness this year."
It’s still too early for health officials to determine which strain of the flu is circulating this year.
If you have a cough, fever or sore throat, Long said it's important to seek testing for both the flu and COVID-19.
The Richmond-Henrico Health District is offering free flu vaccines on Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at their downtown location on 400 East Cary Street.