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UW Health Officials Warn of "Twindemic"

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 -- 12:01 PM

(WMTV) While the precautions taken last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also resulted in an astounding drop in typical flu cases too, health officials at UW Health warn not to expect a similar reprieve this winter.

“Last year, near-zero influenza rates were remarkable, but that won’t be the case this year because restrictions are loosening and we already saw an increase of COVID and flu cases after the Thanksgiving holiday,” warned Dr. Jim Conway, UW Health’s medical director for the immunization program.

Only 100 cases were reported during the last flu season, according to the health systems statistics. That was down an eye-popping 99.7 percent compared to the 36,175 cases reported the previous year.

UW Health officials credited that near absence of influenza cases last year to people more diligently following the recommended precautions to stop COVID-19, such as masking, social distancing, remote learning, and decreased social activities and travel.

UW Health reports influenza cases are already climbing this year, raising fears of what the health system described as a “twindemic,” the confluence of more flu cases accompanying the already spiking COVID-19 numbers.

Concerns about new coronavirus cases resulted in the Dept. of Health Services issuing a public health advisory Monday, shortly before Public Health Madison & Dane Co. extended the county’s mask mandate.

“Holiday gatherings, less masking, more travel, low influenza vaccine rates and the Omicron variant are a recipe for a potential ‘twindemic’ surge, as soon as mid-January, that will put a lot of stress on our already stretched health systems,” Conway continued.

But, it isn’t just the number of cases that worry health officials. Along with the over 36,000 cases recorded over the 2019-2020 flu season, more than 4,400 people ended up in the hospital.

At a time when hospitals are already pushing capacity limits and ICU and intermediate care beds are few and far between, Conway cautioned that returning to those kinds of numbers could overwhelm medical centers.

“If we see flu hospitalizations rise anywhere near pre-pandemic levels alongside this rapidly surging Omicron variant, hospitals will not be able to handle it. We are already struggling,” he added.

In addition to urging people to get their COVID-19 vaccine or booster, UW Health also reminds everyone to get their flu shot as well. Conway notes that both vaccines are “well studied and have been thoroughly tested” and says the effects of not getting them are clear.

“This really has become the pandemic of the unvaccinated, because those hospitalized with the flu or COVID-19 are mostly unvaccinated,” he said. “The best gift you can give this holiday season is to get vaccinated.”

Feel free to contact us with questions and/or comments.