Through the first few months of Colorado's flu season, the presence of the disease is significantly lower than previous years, the state announced Wednesday, thanks in part to a sizable jump in the number of residents vaccinated.
Two million Coloradans have been vaccinated as of this week, the state Department of Public Health and Environment said, a 16.3% increase from a year ago. In the run up to the flu season beginning in October, state and local health officials had heavily emphasized the need for residents to get vaccinated. Because there's significant overlap between COVID and flu symptoms, those officials urged residents to get vaccinated and help avoid the specter of a "twin-demic" that would not only consume testing resources but may further exacerbate a strained health care system.
According to the state health department, clinics have reported that just 0.71% of their patients have reported flu-like illnesses this year, "well below the seasonal baseline of 5.05%." Trips to the emergency room because of flu-related issues were also significantly down, from 2.54% to 0.62%. Only 18 patients have been hospitalized from the seasonal disease, significantly fewer than the 3,546 reported over the course of the flu season last year. Denver officials said last month that in typical years, there are often 200 hospitalizations by the end of December.
The flu season typically begins in late September or early October and ends in May, with the peak occurring in February or March.
“The impressive numbers from this flu season so far show that Coloradans have been taking necessary actions to protect their health and the health of their communities,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the state health department, said in a statement. “But while flu activity is unusually low at this time, it may still increase in the coming months. It’s not too late to get the flu shot, and it’s more important than ever so we can maintain our hospital capacity through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend everyone age 6 months and older get the flu vaccine if they have not done so already."
Last month, a Denver epidemiologist told the Gazette that the flu was "down a tremendous amount." Some had predicted it would be a mild season: The Southern Hemisphere, which has its flu season later than its northern neighbor, had reported a remarkably mild season. That was likely influenced, as officials say Colorado's has been, by the significant measures undertaken by the public to cut down on the spread of COVID. More hand-washing, less in-person interactions, fewer school days -- all likely contributed.
In the three-county area overseen by the Tri-County Health Department, flu vaccine uptake jumped by 25% this year compared to 2019.