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As flu season starts, doctors warn of possible severity

A Broadlawns medical doctor said the flu sends over 200,000 to the hospital each year on average. But that number could increase if the flu season is severe.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Health experts are warning this upcoming flu season has the potential to be severe. 

Dr. Yogesh Shah, chief medical officer at Broadlawns Medical Center, said this is based on a slight surge the U.S. had in the last flu season.

The past two years the flu season has been mild. For the 2021-2022 season, the positivity rate was low at 4.5%.

Dr. Eric Donels, who specializes in internal medicine at the Iowa Clinic, said this flu season, it's important for people to get vaccinated because less people are practicing what they have been for the last two years. 

"People are going out without masks and not keeping their distance from others like they have been," Dr. Donels said. 

According to the CDC, it showed more people received their vaccines in 2020-2021 flu season than in the season prior.  

RELATED: Yes, you can get the omicron COVID-19 booster and the flu shot at the same time

Dr. Shah said it's important that number continues to increase because it could help save lives.

"12,000 to 50,000 Americans die [each year] because of flu," Shah said. "That's something people don't realize."

Dr. Shah noted that, if this season is severe, that number could rise even higher. 

He also said people in a higher risk category for the flu, including people 65 and older and people who are pregnant, need to get the shot. They are more vulnerable and if not vaccinated have the potential to get severely sick and end up in the hospital. 

RELATED: 4.4M Americans roll up sleeves for omicron-targeted boosters

He said a hospital is a place that would not be able to handle an influx of sick people.

"The healthcare system is still short of critical care nursing staff and different line staff," Dr. Shah said. "And we of course have a need of continuing to care for people with other conditions."

To help people get their flu shots, the Iowa Clinic is hosting drive-thru flu vaccinations.

And Dr. Donels said for people who are on the fence about getting their flu shot and the next round of the COVID-19 booster shot, get it. However, he suggests to avoid getting them at the same time. That way, if a person has an allergic reaction, they can figure out which shot they are reacting to.

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