Add To Favorites

Flu sending more locals to the hospital

Free Lance-Star - 12/8/2022

Dec. 9—Fredericksburg-area hospitals and urgent care centers are dealing with the same influx of patients with respiratory illnesses as the rest of the state and nation.

Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital and Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center are all reporting more patients, especially older ones, being admitted for the flu. There are some people with COVID-19, but "we have a bigger number of patients admitted to the hospital with influenza, strain A," said Dr. Jorge Dolojan, a pulmonologist and ICU doctor at Spotsylvania Regional.

He cited "rather alarming" figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which noted that national flu activity the week after Thanksgiving reached its highest level since the 2017 — 18 flu season. This year, there have been at least 8.7 million people sickened with the flu, 78,000 hospitalized and 4,500 deaths, according to CDC's weekly flu report.

"We definitely are seeing a fair number of patients with influenza," said Dr. Stephen Mandell, senior medical director at Mary Washington Hospital. "It seems to be hitting people pretty hard and putting them down for several days."

While most of the patients showing up at urgent care centers and doctors' offices with the flu are younger, those in need of hospital care are older, Mandell said. Across Virginia, hospitalizations rose 40% after the Thanksgiving holiday and Mandell said those who develop more severe cases, either from flu or COVID, tend to have other issues as well.

"Most have other comorbidities, many are not fully vaccinated so it puts people at risk who are otherwise compromised in their medical conditions," he said. "When they do get COVID, which is out there, and influenza, which is very prevalent, it tends to cause this kind of illness."

One positive report is that cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, seem to be dropping, at least in Virginia. The state's health department reported that visits to emergency rooms and urgent-care centers for RSV dropped by almost one-third last week and case levels were no longer significantly elevated.

Brenden Rivenbark, chief operating officer of the Three Rivers Health District, which serves Westmoreland County and other localities in the Northern Neck, believes people have begun to view COVID-19 through the same lens as the flu. There are vaccines and treatments for both, and the illnesses tend to ebb and flow based on seasons, indoor gatherings and outbreaks.

"Folks have been dealing with the flu and cycles with the flu their whole life, and I think that's the train of thought of where we are culturally with folks's comfort level with COVID," he said.

However, people aren't as eager to roll up their sleeves for COVID boosters as flu shots, he said. Whenever Three Rivers has clinics offering both vaccines, workers always give out more flu shots.

"The flu shot is one and done," Rivenbark said. "You get it and you're done with it this year and there continues to be this level of uncertainty of when is another (COVID) booster going to be approved."

Health officials continue to tout the need for both vaccines as the best protection against severe illness. The Rappahannock Area Health District started calling and texting residents, age 50 and older, in Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford last week, reminding them they're eligible for the latest COVID shot. It's a bivalent booster and contains two components: one that provides protection against the original virus and another that's aimed at the omicron variant.

Dolojan wonders if the abundance of boosters has led to vaccine fatigue, both toward COVID and flu shots. While the CDC reports that flu vaccines for children have been administered at about the same rate this fall as last, estimates are lower for adults and hover around 40%.

"You can see a lot of people out there not vaccinated against the flu," Dolojan said, adding that vaccines not only protect the individual but also reduce the general transmission rate in the community.

Health officials also continue to stress the importance of hand washing as one of the best defenses against any respiratory illness. They ask people who are feeling any of the myriad symptoms—including fever, runny nose, aches and pains—to get tested and treated and then isolate to avoid the spread.

"If you are ill with a respiratory illness, the best thing to do for yourself and others is to stay home," Dolojan said. "I'm sure others would appreciate that. I get it, the past two years have been very suffocating, but we must always exercise some prudence in caring for ourselves and others."

That doesn't mean people should let fear keep them away from family and friends.

"Gathering is definitely better than not gathering," Mandell said, again citing the need for personal responsibility. "Be careful during the holiday season, but I think you should celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah and all your holidays and be thankful we've gotten to the place we have as a community and share in the responsibility we have in controlling" the spread of viruses.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425


(c)2022 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.