COLORADO SPRINGS — Almost every Your Healthy Family story we have done for nearly a year has been related to COVID-19 in some way. It’s staggering when you think about how many lives have been lost and the new hope available with the emergence of a vaccine.
Normally this time of the year we’d be focused on the flu, but right now influenza cases are almost non-existent. So what happened to the flu?
Dr. Ian Tullberg, medical director for UCHealth’s Urgent Care clinics, explains: “I certainly believe, and others believe, that the low flu numbers (right now) are really coming because of the precautions that we’re seeing taken as a result of COVID-19.”
How low are the numbers? In late January 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there were just over 300 people hospitalized in Colorado with the flu. As of last week, (Jan 15,, 2021) there were only 18 people hospitalized with the flu statewide and UCHealth had zero flu hospitalizations in southern Colorado.
Dr. Tullberg says, “These numbers are staggering, and it really goes to show honestly that if we would take precautions on a yearly basis, like we did this last year, this could be the flu season every single year.”
Dr. Tullberg emphasizes he isn't talking about any of the extreme COVID precautions like shutting down of schools, businesses or large events. What’s needed is a focus on some of the simple things we are doing right now during cold and flu seasons of the future. “I'm really talking about the masking and the hand-washing, and something that a lot of folks really don't like: not shaking hands. There's so much evidence about the spread of germs from just shaking hands. Do a fist pump, or just a friendly, ‘How are you?’ but shaking hands and not washing your hands afterward and then touching your face is a killer.”
As far as the coronavirus, Dr. Tullberg also says getting a vaccine when it's available is also key moving forward. “I've got mine. I had my second dose last week so if you look at the statistics, I am 95% covered, which is terrific. I will tell you I'm awfully excited about it, not just for my friends and family but for my patients. The day after I felt a little achy and that's to be expected.”
It’s the light at the end of a long tunnel that Dr. Tullberg says so many have been waiting for. “I've volunteered at the vaccine clinics making sure folks are doing well afterward and the amount of appreciation from people who are just getting that shot - there was one lady the other day who cried, saying she has been looking forward to this forever, because she hasn't been able to see her family and friends and it's heartbreaking but in a good way. People are so excited there is a wonderful buzz just being in those clinics. You know you're doing something that has really never been seen before and really being part of history. Just seeing the changes and how quickly things have been put together and the incredible efficacy of this vaccine, which we haven't even come close to seeing with the flu vaccine - it really is remarkable.”
While no one knows for sure, but Dr. Tullberg believes many of these new changes are here to stay. “My thoughts are the flu and COVID-19 are staying with us forever. We have repeated yearly flu vaccines, and perhaps someone (in the future) will put those two together. I think it will be our new norm having both (flu and COVID) but certainly with the vaccine, the more people we can get on board with taking it the better, and we can take the case numbers down to a minimum.”
For more information on getting a COVID vaccine through UCHealth or to sign up to a vaccine list, go to www.UCHealth.org/covidvaccine [uchealth.org].
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