HONOLULU (KHON2) — With most pandemic restrictions lifted, COVID cases are on the rise again but so are the common cold and flu, and that’s leading to a lot of confusion.
“We are seeing a very large increase in colds, particularly among keiki,” Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center Director of Infection Control Jacob Schafer said. “Our pediatric clinics are also seeing a lot more colds in keiki, we’re also seeing quite a bit more influenza in our walk-in clinics.”
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Influenza has been among the viruses that Dr. Alan Wu has seen at Doctors of Waikiki lately.
“A lot of people just vaccinated against COVID but kind of forgot about influenza A and B in the background. And they’re coming positive with influenza A and B,” Dr. Wu said.
WCCHC, like Doctors of Waikiki, tests for COVID and the flu at the same time.
“We used to see a lot of positives and COVID tests a lot less than influenza, but now we’re seeing a lot more positive influenza cases,” Schafer said.
He adds that many of the patients that come in that are negative for the flu and COVID are quite a bit sicker than healthcare providers would expect.
“We’ve largely been sequestered during the pandemic. We’ve been socially distancing we’ve been wearing our masks,” Schafer said. “So we haven’t had exposure, these daily exposures to things so when we do get sick with influenza or the common cold, it can be much worse because we haven’t built up that natural immunity over the past two years.”
With similar symptoms between a lot of these viruses, the best thing to do is to get tested, but a lot of at-home antigen tests aren’t giving positive results right away.
“I really do think a lot of people need that reassurance and sometimes if you didn’t run the test correctly, you can miss COVID cases,” Dr. Wu said.
A single negative COVID test from an at-home kit might not be enough.
“If you’re using one of those at home tests, one of the antigen tests, remember it can take a few days from symptom onset until you would test positive,” Schafer said. “So just because you have the sniffles or a sore throat or a cough or a fever now again, with the new variants and you test negative at home, that doesn’t mean it’s not COVID it’s something else you need to keep testing and take those precautions.”
Many physicians and health centers can provide more reliable PCR tests for the flu. If you are able to catch an infection of one of these viruses early, both now have oral treatments that can help ease your symptoms or duration.
“We do have to be aware of hey — if it’s a sniffle this may be more than just allergy or just a cold is coming in and get tested,’ Dr. Wu said.
Now, Hawaii’s formerly reliable influenza season that used to run from October to April has been thrown out of the rotation with two seasons of barely above baseline activity.
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“Now we’re seeing so many flu cases much longer, later in the year than we ever would,” Schafer said. “So that really leaves open the question now are we going to see an actual flu season which is reverse because we haven’t had the opportunity to spread so we just something to keep an eye on. We don’t know if that’s going to happen? It’s a big question in the epidemiological community.”