This year’s combination of flu, COVID, and RSV has left classrooms in Petersburg emptier than usual.
So far, this year, there have been more flu cases per month in Alaska than in previous years. According to Alaska’s Department of Public Health, there were around 1400 lab confirmed reports of the flu as of December 3rd. That’s more than double what was seen when compared to 600 reports for around the same time last year.
Erin Michael is a Public Health Nurse in Petersburg and has been giving people vaccines. She says what the community is seeing now is just the beginning.
“It looks like it had a kind of early onset of it, not necessarily the peak. I don’t think we’ve hit our peak,” said Michael.
“But we are certainly heating up a lot quicker than we typically do. Usually, we see cases start to rise in late December, January and February. But we started, and of October and November. And so that’s quite early for a flu season.”
The CDC defines flu season as October through May. But, usually Alaska has a later start than that.
Angela Menish is a family nurse practitioner at the Petersburg Medical Center. She says she’s not sure how long the season could last.
“You know, we’ve got influenza, we’ve got RSV, and we have COVID. circulating,” said Menish.
“And we’ve seen that, you know, you know, historically, we’ve seen the flu season kind of spike and then kind of died down. But, you know, I think after a couple years of COVID, it’s probably pretty hard to predict exactly what’s gonna happen.”
RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. It’s a virus that has many similar symptoms to the flu and is common in young children. The CDC says most children will have had RSV by their second birthday.
Not everyone seeking healthcare in Petersburg has one of the three big-name viruses. Menish says there are just more people sick all around.
“I think people are definitely getting sicker. We see, you know, we’ve seen people without, you know, influenza, RSV, or COVID. You know, we’ve we’re seeing people, just a lot of people sick with viral respiratory viral infections.”
One reason for all of the infections could be the way people are socializing. Following the easing of COVID restrictions and availability of COVID vaccines, many people are gathering together again. That makes it easy for these types of viruses to spread.
“People are starting to kind of want to be normal, like we used to be, you know, where we didn’t have to worry about avoiding, you know, highly populated events or wearing a mask and those type of things,” said Menish.
“And so, I think we’re coming out of this time where we were keeping our circles small and where we were wearing masks and, and it was constantly on our mind, we’re starting to normalize these events more and so we’re just seeing these, you know, viruses spread amongst people, you know, more than we did over the last couple of years.”
The virus trifecta is also hitting the schools hard.
Heather Conn is the Principal for Rae C. Stedman Elementary School. She’s seen the impact it’s had on attendance. Earlier this month on December 5, she said many kids were out sick.
“Today, we have 30 Out and About 20 of those are out with flu and cold symptoms,” said Conn.
That’s almost ten percent of the student body.
That same day, 14 members of the faculty were out with flu-like symptoms across the district – at the elementary, middle, and high school.
It is unclear when Petersburg will hit the peak of this year’s flu season, so Public Health Nurse Erin Michael emphasized the importance of taking precautions.
“I would certainly encourage people to get their flu shot and get their COVID shots,” said Michael.
“And there is a new booster that’s available for everybody six, six months and up that has the Omicron variant in the booster. So I’d encourage people to get their COVID shots up to date and certainly get their flu shots.”
Michael says that getting these vaccines can offer some protection but they take time to be effective.
For more information about this year’s flu visit Alaska Public Health’s website at health.alaska.gov.