Big Island hospitals report nothing out of ordinary when it comes to flu cases; COVID numbers also on downward trend
September 15, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
Is the Big Island seeing an uptick in flu cases already? According to the island’s health care providers, if it is, it’s been minimal.
According to Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu, flu cases do naturally increase as children return to school each year following the summer break. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that as of the beginning of September, Hawai‘i is seeing a minimal amount of flu activity.
But it doesn’t seem like it’s anything out of the ordinary.
Lynn Scully, spokesperson for Queen’s North Hawai‘i Community Hospital in Waimea, said the hospital just started its employee flu vaccination campaign. She got her shot Thursday.
The hospital’s emergency room manager reported Thursday that the department hasn’t seen many flu cases recently, maybe one or two now and then. Scully also hasn’t heard anything out of the norm about flu numbers on the mainland.
Kona Community Hospital spokeswoman Anne Padilla reported the West Hawai‘i hospital also hasn’t seen anything out of the ordinary, other than a slight uptick in August. Historically, flu cases begin to increase after the first of the year.
The most recent data available from the Hawai‘i Department of Health backs up Cabatu and Scully, showing for the week of Aug. 20-26:
- Just 3% of outpatient visits statewide were for influenza-like illnesses.
- Flu-like illness visits were comparable to the historical baseline in Hawai‘i.
- Hawai‘i’s flu-like illness outpatient visits were slightly higher than the national baseline of 2.5% and higher than the national rate of 1.7%.
A total of 2,710 specimens were tested throughout the state that week, with 131 positive results for various influenza A and B types, or 4.8%, which was a decrease from the previous week. The most positive cases were in children ages 1 to 4 years old, with those ages 5 to 24 the second hardest hit demographic.
According to the state Health Department’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, the flu circulates all year in Hawai‘i because of the state’s high volume of tourism and its tropical climate. Cases, however, are most common in the fall and winter, similar to the mainland.
Flu activity traditionally begins to pick up during October, but in Hawai‘i it usually lags behind the mainland.
Now, however, is probably the best time to get vaccinated before the flu picks up in prevalence.
The state Health Department says the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated each year because of flu viruses are constantly evolving. Young keiki, kupuna, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions are at high risk of flu complications and are encouraged to get vaccinated early.
There are flu shot clinics available around the island. Click here to find one or ask your health care provider about getting vaccinated.
Other than getting vaccinated, ways to ward away the flu are:
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid close contact with sick people and stay away from others when you are sick.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
That’s also good advice for protecting yourself from COVID-19, which Big Island hospitals have seen a decrease in numbers lately after a spike that started during mid-summer that followed an increase in cases on the mainland.
Cabatu reported that the Hilo hospital is down to four COVID patients this week compared to 18 last week. Padilla said Kona Community Hospital has seen a total of 19 COVID patients, inpatient and outpatient, since the beginning of September. That’s down from a total of 55 for all of August.
Scully said the Queen’s Health System overall, which includes facilities on O‘ahu and elsewhere in the state, has seen an uptick in cases, but specifics for the Waimea hospital were unavailable as the system no longer reports numbers at its individual hospitals.
The state also is showing an overall decrease in COVID numbers on the Big Island. According to the Department of Health, there were 85 new cases reported on the island this week. The seven-day average was at only 12 from the week before, down one, and the seven-day positivity test rate is at 4.5%.
The Department of Health said there were a total of 134 new cases reported statewide for the week of Sept. 5-11, down 22 cases from the week before.
The department said Thursday that shipping of the Initial public and private sector orders of a new COVID vaccine, which will protect against the most common forms of the virus circulating in Hawai‘i, is underway.
The vaccine is expected to arrive yet this week, but might not be available yet for all healthcare providers, depending on shipping time, which can vary based on manufacturer, distributor and provider location.
Click here to search for 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine providers or speak with your health care provider.