LIHU‘E – Kaua‘i is well into flu season and some health officials say the global threat of the coronavirus has played a big part in people getting their flu shots this season. Some officials report citizens are more worried about coronavirus (COVID-19) than influenza, though.
Associated Press reports Hawai‘i is bracing for 50,000 to 70,000 cases of flu this year and that officials say flu is running rampant in health care facilities across the state.
Lihu‘e Pharmacy has seen the surge of those looking for flu shots this season. Pharmacists report a constant flow of patients coming into their facility for their annual flu shot.
“We are pretty steady. We get about 7-10 people a week,” said pharmacist Ashley Hori.
She said since the beginning of 2020, they’ve given out 85 regular shots and 38 high dose flu shots. The high dose flu shots are for the seniors ages 65 and older who have a weaker immune system.
Latest Department of Health (DOH) reports, coming from week six of the 2019-2020 influenza season, say officials have recorded a total of 1,643 samples that have been tested statewide for influenza viruses. About 40% came back positive — about 663 cases of the flu.
According to the state of DOH’s fact sheets, symptoms of the influenza include suddenly get a fever, headache and tiredness. Other symptoms you may include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms usually begin 1-4 days after exposure to the virus.
“People should get their flu vaccine—it’s recommended for virtually everyone 6 months of age and older. Even though it’s getting late in the season it’s still worth being vaccinated,” Dr. Janet Berreman, Kaua‘i District Health Officer.
Centers for Disease Control reports the U.S. has already had 22 million influenza cases in the four months since flu season began, and about three dozen Americans have been reported to have the coronavirus, which emerged late last year in central China.
Hawai‘i Lt. Gov. Josh Green, also an emergency room doctor, said it’s also common in Hawai‘i for people to be concerned they’ve contracted the coronavirus.
“There is an obvious psychological component to the flu this year complicated by the coronavirus. None of our Hawai‘i residents have had coronavirus, but it’s still a very real thing on people’s minds,” said Green.
A Monday DOH update on COVID-19 stated the department has set a level 2 national travel advisory for travel to Japan and South Korea, meaning people should exercise increased caution while traveling, but no travel restrictions are currently in place. No one in Hawai‘i is under mandatory quarantine, as of Monday, either. Feb. 20 marks the last day that anyone exposed to the Japanese visitor might develop symptoms.
DOH updated the public on the four Hawai‘i residents who were passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship, Holland America, saying they’ve returned home and the department is in contact with the individuals.
Monday, DOH said no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Hawai‘i.
State health officials recommend Hawai‘i residents and visitors wash their hands when feeling sick or when in public areas in order to avoid catching influenza and to avoid catching coronavirus. Both are respiratory illnesses and authorities advise wearing a mask outside or when traveling.
The state Department of Health also advises those with the flu or coronavirus to seek medical services and to stay at home because both influenza and COVID-19 are contagious.
“People can also protect themselves by washing their hands frequently, avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, covering their coughs &sneezes; staying home when they are sick,” Berreman said.
Although there are no cases of the coronavirus virus reported in Hawai‘i, people are advised to take care of their health and hygiene.
For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.
Associated Press contributed to the story.