NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- It's only August, but the CARES Senior Health Clinic is already starting to feel the effect of the 2020 flu season. Clinic director and registered nurse Gisela Dalnoky said they've received two phone calls -- one Friday and one Monday -- from people with suspected cases.
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"They have flu-like symptoms. I asked the COVID questions. They didn't seem to be COVID kinds of symptoms," said Dalnoky, who plans to try to fit the callers in for appointments this week.
Dalnoky said the calls didn't come unusually early -- the clinic saw its first suspected flu cases in August last year, too. What is unusual -- people are also reaching out to inquire about CARES' annual flu clinic. The senior health center serves patients ages 55 and older who are either uninsured or low-income. Dalnoky said out of its 800-plus patients, around 100 or so tend to show up for the flu clinic.
"I have a feeling that this year, more of them will come because people are more worried and more concerned -- at least, that's what we're hearing from them," said Dalnoky. "People are actually calling us, asking us, 'When are you having the flu clinic?' That's never happened before."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity typically peaks in the United States between December and February. Earlier this month, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters taking part in a webinar hosted by the Alliance for Health Policy that there's actually a chance the pandemic could lead to a milder flu season.
"It might be that the mask-wearing, the physical separation, the avoiding crowds, the hand washing that we're doing now for COVID might really, really blunt the flu season," Fauci said.
Fauci said the "niche" effect seen with respiratory illnesses may also come into play. For example, he pointed to cases of the H1N1 swine flu seen during the spring of 2009. That strain seemed to then disappear during the summer.
"Then, as we got into the fall, we were expecting a typical flu season of H3N2," Fauci said. "The respiratory infections of H1N1 completely bumped off the map H3N2."
If COVID-19 does the same to the flu this year, Fauci said that plus public health measures aimed at slowing the virus's spread could put a damper on both diseases.
Dalnoky said the CARES clinic is working to get ready for whatever comes, and this year, that could potentially mean hosting a second clinic.
CARES' flu clinic is open to the public, as well as patients. This year's is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 8, from 9 AM-1 PM. To sign up, call the CARES Senior Health Clinic at (727) 844-3077.