The Colorado Springs Gazette final

Flu season may feel worse than it is

Both state and El Paso County show an increase in activity with typical influenza


Data aside, a bad flu season is (cough) the one where you come down with a bad case of the flu.

Whatever your experience with the 2023-24 season of sickness so far, Colorado health experts say things aren’t as bad as they were this time last year.

Not yet, hopefully not ever, “but I would caution that it really is too soon to tell,” said Haley Zachary, Communicable Disease Program manager with El Paso County Public Health.

Tracking of the so-called flu season begins in October and runs through mid-may. As of Dec. 3, 31 people in El Paso County had been hospitalized for influenza, compared to 53 the same week one year ago.

“I would say we are certainly seeing an increase in influenza activity, both in the state and here in El Paso County, but it’s presenting at this point like a typical influenza season prior to COVID,” Zachary said. “I think some years we just feel it more than others.”

To determine the severity of a season, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tracks hospitalizations from three respiratory diseases — influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and

COVID-19 — and publishes updated numbers online weekly. El Paso County disabled its COVID-19 dashboard in April, but flu hospitalization numbers are updated weekly.

Such a metric — who is hospitalized, rather than who catches a virus — said Zachary, paints a reliable and consistent picture of a viral season’s destruction, even though it doesn’t account for everyone who got ill.

“We know a lot of people get the flu and a lot of people get it more than once and they’re really sick for a few days, but then they recover and go about their normal lives,” Zachary said. “When you’re looking from the health department perspective, hospitalizations tell us who is most severely impacted and how widespread is that impact. If you’re sick enough to get hospitalized ... that usually doesn’t vary too much.”

That wasn’t necessarily the case during the pandemic, however, when hospitalizations for the flu and RSV dropped to historic lows.

While it’s true that some people sick enough with the flu or RSV might have checked themselves into a hospital if a bed had been available, fewer people caught bugs because of isolation and a societal hyperfocus on masks and sanitation, Zachary said.

“I think it feels like there’s a lot more (flu) out there now, but that’s because the last few years have been really wonky,” Zachary said.

Statewide as of Wednesday, 467 people had been hospitalized with the flu, 471 for RSV and 2,685 for COVID-19 since Oct. 1.

“We’ve seen increases in COVID transmission here in CO since about August, and in the last just couple of weeks we’re starting to see things level off a bit,” said CDPHE epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “What we’re seeing is RSV and influenza catching up with COVID. Flu could potentially go on to circulate at higher levels.”

Where it goes from here depends on us.

“It’s probably safe to assume we’re still a few weeks from peak levels,” Herlihy said. “That’s good news. There’s still time for folks to get vaccines ahead of the holidays, peak RSV and flu seasons, so they can protect loved ones, friends and family by giving them the courtesy of not getting them sick.”

For more information about available vaccines and where to get them, visit CDPHE’S website and click on “immunizations.”





The Gazette, Colorado Springs