It had been a quiet season for the flu in Middle Tennessee until Tuesday. Then, by midday on Wednesday, 60 people had been hospitalized with laboratory confirmed cases of influenza, meaning scores more are sick, just not so ill that they go to the hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control put Vanderbilt Medical Center in charge of monitoring the flu regionally, and Dr. William Schaffner says he's "impressed" by the abruptness of its arrival.
"I suspect that the holidays — with all the travel hither and yon and the hugging and the kissing — has resulted in the transmission of the influenza virus, and now we're seeing some of the results of that," he says.
Schools are typically accused of being the germ cesspools that perpetuate flu outbreaks. Schaffer says kids do produce more influenza virus, have more face-to-face interaction and tend to be "less hygienic." He wonders if students may have taken the flu home for the holidays and then it spread.
The dominant strain this year — H3N2 — also tends to result in harsher symptoms. Schaffner says that may explain the hospitalizations.
Other regions are monitoring a similar spike.
Infectious disease experts say it's still not too late for a flu vaccine to be effective.