Growing number of flu patients seeing doctor online

Published: Jan. 17, 2020 at 3:15 PM EST
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New numbers from the CDC show that while flu activity is decreasing overall, it remains high around the country. Many patients are also choosing to see their doctor online for suspected flu.

The Martinez family is visiting a pediatrician online, instead of heading to the doctor's office -- two kids are sick with the flu.

"They don't have to get dressed up and get in the car and get out of the house -- it's more comfortable for them," said Karla Martinez, their mom.

Pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann says more patients are using telemedicine to see doctors virtually during flu season. "Influenza can really be efficiently treated using telehealth," she said. "We can get a full exam via telehealth for the flu and we can send you to a lab for testing, blood test, chest x-ray, and if necessary, we do need an in-person exam."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu activity has declined over the last few weeks, but still remains high. Flu B viruses, which tend to impact children, have been dominating, but the CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan says A is also showing up. "We are starting to see influenza A viruses also increasing, so exactly what that means we don't know. Last season we ended up having a very long season with two different circulating influenza viruses," he said.

While we're seeing lots of flu activity, the CDC says hospitalizations and deaths are not high at this point in the season. Flu B viruses tend to cause less severe illness, especially in older adults. So far this season there have been at least 13 million flu illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations, and 6,600 deaths -- 39 children have died.

"The majority of those deaths are in kids who had influenza B infections and only about eight of those were vaccinated," Jernigan said. "We know the vaccine can be effective in preventing death."

With weeks of flu ahead, federal health officials say it's still not too late to get your shot.

The CDC says data so far indicates the vaccine overall is a pretty good match, but it will be several weeks before health officials know for sure.