With COVID-19’s impact generally easing, although still deadly, could Los Angeles County be on the verge of a nasty flu season?
That was the concern expressed Thursday by the county’s Public Health director, who said the intense infection-control measures put in place to combat the pandemic also led to a dramatic reduction in flu cases over the past two years.
As a result, however, residents could potentially be more susceptible to flu infections, particularly if the area is hit with an infectious influenza strain being tracked in countries like Australia.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county is “likely to see more influenza than we’ve seen in the past two years,” since most of the COVID-era restrictions — particularly mask-wearing requirements — have been lifted.
“The big worry is most of us haven’t seen any flu for a couple years now,” she said, noting that such a lack of exposure could also lead to more infections this winter — a time when COVID infections have also spiked during the last two years.
She urged residents to ensure they are up to date on their flu shots and COVID-19 vaccinations.
The county on Thursday reported 1,517 new COVID-19 infections, raising the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,454,542. The infection numbers reported by the county are believed to be an undercount of actual cases due to the prevalence of at-home COVID tests, the results of which are generally not reported to health officials.
Another 12 virus-related fatalities were reported, giving the county a cumulative death toll of 33,598.
According to state figures, there were 499 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, up from 471 the previous day. Of those patients, 59 were being treated in intensive care, down slightly from 60 on Wednesday.
County officials have said about 43% of patients with COVID were actually hospitalized due to virus-related illness, while the rest were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested upon admission.
The seven-day average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.6% as of Thursday.