KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Department of Health has released its latest flu numbers following the week of Thanksgiving. The graphs from the department compare outpatient visits stemming from a flu-like illness. This week’s numbers show Tennessee peaking at 13% compared to the national average which is less than 8%.

The top infectious disease specialist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center reviewed these latest numbers and explained what they show. Last week, UT Medical Center temporarily restricted visitation due to flu cases.

Dr. Mahmoud Shorman explains the East Tennessee Region, the Knoxville-Knox County region, and the nation are experiencing higher numbers of flu cases because of the lack of restrictions and mask requirements, unlike what we’ve seen over the last years of the pandemic.

Dr. Shorman explained usually flu season would peak in January or February, not in early December as the state has seen with the latest numbers. He also shared the state’s flu report does not include the number of hospitalizations; a number that is also higher than normal for this time of year.

“Hospitalizations due to influenza in the country, including here in Tennessee, actually our hospital also, had seven times more hospitalizations with the flu this time of year compared to the last previous years,” said Shorman.

Shorman said another reason the nation is experiencing higher case numbers is that less people are getting the flu vaccine. He encouraged people to get this year’s vaccine and explained why it’s so effective.

“The strain in the vaccine is what’s circulating, so that’s a really positive thing for us to be somewhat optimistic,” said Shorman. “If everybody that needs the vaccine is taking the vaccine that would help the community, not only the person, because of the vaccine match.”         

In addition to the vaccine, Shorman said people need to continue to wash their hands, cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching their face, and stay home if someone feels ill. He also said people should avoid the emergency rooms if they are not in an absolute crisis. He said with long wait times, there’s a chance people waiting will catch another sickness while there.

Shorman said unless something changes, he predicts the numbers will continue to go in the wrong direction. Right now, 1 in 4 people are testing positive for the flu. He also said that with every sick person at least one other person will get sick, maybe two.