Mercy Regional Medical Center is seeing far more cases of flu this year than last year, as flu season nears its typical January peak.
The hospital has seen 34 cases of flu and four patients who were hospitalized for the disease from Oct. 1 to the end of December, according to a news release. During the same period last year, Mercy saw six flu cases, including three hospitalizations.
The increase in cases is likely driven, in part, by additional testing and residents being more aware of their symptoms and coming in for treatment, said Dr. Jennifer Rupp with Four Corners Infectious Disease at Mercy.
A different stain of flu circulating this year could also be driving the increase in cases, said Keri McCune, infection prevention program manager at Mercy.
“Flu is constantly changing and adapting,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald. “We do our best to predict what strains will be circulating and the severity of the upcoming season, but there will always be variation from one season to the next.”
In recent weeks, Mercy has seen a greater percentage of patients test positive for flu, she said.
From Dec. 22 through Thursday, the hospital has seen 34% of all tests for flu come back positive, up from a baseline of fewer than 10% of all tests coming back positive, she said.
Southwest Colorado as a whole has also seen a sharp increase in flu cases over the past three weeks, said Samie Stephens, southwest regional epidemiologist with San Juan Basin Public Health. But it’s too soon to judge the severity of the flu season, she said.
A jump in flu cases at this time of year is in line with seasonal trends. The number of flu cases typically peaks in January and lasts through May, McCune said.
The number of cases will likely continue to increase, perhaps through the month, Rupp said.
Residents can protect themselves by getting a flu vaccination, she said.
A vaccination is expected to reduce patients’ risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those experiencing severe flu symptoms such as shortness of breath, an inability to stay hydrated and a high fever near 102 to 103, should seek care in the emergency room, Rupp said.
Those with moderate symptoms such as fatigue and fever can seek care at an urgent care clinic, she said.
“Don’t ignore your symptoms thinking that it’s just a cold,” she said.