EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Northeastern and central Pennsylvania is dealing with a health issue that was practically non-existent last year.

It’s a viral infection that’s not COVID-related. That viral infection is the flu and it’s back this season with a vengeance. The spike in flu cases is impacting not only our community but also the healthcare professionals who care for us.

“We’ve seen a lot of influenza,” Geisinger NE Region Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Alison Brodginski said.

The 2021-2022 flu season got off to an early start and the flu is not showing any signs of letting up.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of it in our community but we’ve also had people in our hospital for complications of influenza,” Dr. Brodginski said.

That’s exactly what Geisinger and other hospitals don’t need as COVID cases surge statewide. Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Tuesday more than 7,000 COVID-related hospitalizations in the commonwealth, a first this pandemic.

“We basically are having two respiratory seasons wrapped into one,” Dr. Brodginski said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the toll the flu has taken in northeastern Pennsylvania from early last fall until last week is greatest in Schuylkill County with 876 cases. Luzerne County has the next most also with more than 800 cases.

Monroe County has 368 flu cases and counting, while Lackawanna County also tops more than 300 cases. Columbia County rounds out the top five most-confirmed flu cases with 243.

So what’s behind the flu surge?

“We’re not masking as much as we were last year. You know, we’re continuing on with our daily lives as we should,” Dr. Brodginski said.

But with COVID and the flu circulating in the community, Dr. Brodginski urges a call to action and precaution to deal with this so-called “twindemic”.

“Really important again if you’re not feeling well, please stay home, get those vaccines, wash those hands and let’s take care of one another,” Dr. Brodginski said.

Keep in mind, it takes about two weeks for your body’s immune system to respond to the flu vaccine and produce those protective anti-bodies. Doctors say the sooner you get that flu vaccine the better.