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Louisville health officials warn of spike in flu virus in wastewater

A representation of the flu virus at a microscopic level. A blue sphere covered in protruding spikes with blunt tops.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
public domain
A computer-generated representation of the influenza virus.

The city’s wastewater surveillance system has detected a surge in influenza virus. Health officials say it means flu season is right around the corner.

Louisville public health officials are urging residents to get their flu shot. Researchers at the University of Louisville say their wastewater monitoring system has detected a redoubling of influenza virus concentration in recent weeks.

“That’s a sign that flu season is almost here,” said Dr. Kris Bryant, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness’ associate medical director.

“And if people have not yet had their flu shot, now is the time. Make an appointment today to get a flu shot before flu really starts circulating in our community.”

Dr. Ted Smith, the U of L associate professor who leads the wastewater surveillance work, said levels of influenza virus have doubled twice in the last several weeks.

“We really hope that folks will take this information to heart and plan accordingly,” he said.

Bryant said this year’s flu season is predicted to look much like last year’s, which was moderately severe overall and severe in children and adolescents.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 290,000 and 678,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized with the flu, and that between 17,000 and 98,000 people died due to complications of the flu.

In Jefferson County, 26 flu-related deaths were reported last flu season.

More than 180 children died due to the flu last year in the U.S., according to Bryant.

“Some of those deaths were in previously healthy children,” Bryant said. She said that typically about half of child flu deaths each year are in children with no previous health conditions.

Bryant said as of Thursday, only about 100 cases of the flu had been reported in the Louisville Metro area this season. But she and Smith said they expect cases to grow in the next couple of weeks.

This year’s flu season could be complicated by a number of factors, Bryant said, including medication shortages and high rates of RSV and the continued presence of COVID-19.

Smith said COVID-19 levels in wastewater had remained steady and were not surging like the flu.

But COVID-19 is still circulating in the community, Bryant said, and is still causing some hospitalizations.

They recommended the flu and COVID-19 vaccines for everyone six months and older.

Information about where to get a vaccine can be found at https://louisvilleky.gov/government/health-wellness/flu

Bryant said there is an ongoing nationwide shortage of amoxicillin, an antibiotic used to treat secondary bacterial infections that people get as a result of flu.

“It’s still available, and there are alternatives, but I think that’s something to watch for,” she said.

Last year there was a nationwide shortage of oseltamivir, an antiviral used to treat flu. The Food and Drug Admistration has not indicated a shortage of the oseltamivir this season.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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