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INDIANAPOLIS — With the holiday season in full swing, health officials want to remind Hoosiers that it’s not time to let your guard down when it comes to protecting against the flu.

According to data released Friday from the Indiana State Department of Health, Influenza-like illness across the State of Indiana remains low, but is slowly increasing, following a national trend, according to the CDC.

Several healthcare professionals from across the state said they’re seeing a rise in flu cases among patients.

“We definitely have seen an uptick in cases recently,” said Caitlin Krouse, a family nurse practitioner at Matthew 25 Health and Care in Fort Wayne.

“We are seeing a few cases but probably not as much as we’ve seen in previous years. I think there are many things that are contributing to these,” said Dr. Saura Fortin, Chief Medical Officer of primary care clinics for Eskenazi Health Centers.

“One of the things is definitely us wearing masks, which protects us against the flu but also COVID because they’re both diseases transmitted through air droplets,” Fortin added. “I think also that many people might not be coming out to get tested for the flu, they have mild symptoms, they go get tested for COVID, they go and say well it’s not COVID and they just stay at home.”

Healthcare professionals said this is around the time of year where they are beginning to see more viral infections among patients.

“We are starting to even kind of catch that late Thanksgiving holiday season and seeing those viruses that get spread at those times, including the flu,” said Krouse.

Last year, flu season was practically nonexistent due to the prevalence of mask-wearing and COVID-19 precautions, and even though the numbers don’t represent a massive spike, there has been a rise in flu-like illness compared to this same time period last year.

Data from ISDH shows, during the week ending with November 27, 2021, less than 2% of patients in Indiana’s emergency departments and urgent cares had flu-like illness as their chief complaint.

In 2020, during the same time period, that number was even lower, according to a trend map.

In 2019, however, pre-pandemic, more than 2% of patients in emergency departments and urgent cares in Indiana had flu-like illness as their chief complaint.

Although the numbers don’t show a significant rise from 2020, the line is trending up, and to avoid that, health officials say people need to continue being vigilant and taking steps to protect themselves and others.

“We know COVID has ruled our lives and our media over the last few years but we kind of forget that flu has been a very, very serious illness forever. For a very, very long time,” said Krouse.

“So, we can’t take it for granted. It is a diagnosis; it is a virus that kills people every single year and so really we need to be serious about seeing even just small percentages, little, tiny upticks in these numbers because these are people on the other end of this that are being impacted and affected, so it’s really important to keep a close eye on it and protect yourself, protect your family, your community and those you love,” Krause said.

According to ISDH data, there has been one flu-associated death in the 2021-2022 flu season, in late Oct. That person, state health officials said, was 65-years-old.

“We definitely don’t want to invoke fear in patients, but at the same time we want to be realistic about what these diagnoses are doing for patients and individuals,” said Krouse.

“What we’re seeing as healthcare providers is extremely unpredictable often. We know people who have comorbidities for example, the really young, the really old, might be at risk for these things, but we often see that doesn’t always follow the same track as well,” she added.

Both Krouse and Fortin are asking Hoosiers to continue practicing measures that will help reduce the spread of viral illnesses, as we approach the colder weather and holiday season.

“It is not time yet to relax any of these measures that we have put in place, so you should continue to wear a mask whether you’re vaccinated or not, whether you’re feeling sick or not, because it continues to protect you and everyone else,” said Fortin.

“As we relax any of these precautions, as we relax ourselves and are not constantly wearing a mask, social distancing, washing our hands, then we are going to see more of these viruses,” Fortin said.

Both are also encouraging Hoosiers to get not only their flu vaccinations, but also their COVID-19 vaccines if they have not yet.

“Go please get vaccinated. We know the vaccines help diminish the spread of disease and that’s very true for flu vaccines, COVID vaccines,” said Krouse.

If you’re sick, both Fortin and Krouse are encouraging Hoosiers to seek medical treatment and get tested or reach out to your healthcare provider.

“The flu, the same as COVID, has treatment we can offer to people, but if we don’t know that you have the flu, that treatment is not made available to you,” said Fortin.

“If people are displaying symptoms and they’re not quite sure what to do about it, always reach out to your healthcare provider,” said Krouse.

She added, “It’s really difficult to distinguish whether somebody might have flu symptoms or COVID symptoms or some sort of upper respiratory illness going around, so it’s important as soon as you identify symptoms to seek care with your healthcare professional so you can get the appropriate testing done so you can get the correct diagnosis because we’re going to treat those things a bit differently.”