As the pandemic intensified, the flu nearly disappeared for 2 years. But the flu seems to be making a comeback within the U.S. this yr, bringing with it the long-feared “twin epidemic.”
While each the flu and the coronavirus are unpredictable, there are troubling indicators that extra circumstances of COVID could happen this winter and that the flu could recur.
“This could be the yr we see a twindemic,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious ailments at Vanderbilt University. “In different phrases, now we have a rise in COVID and the flu on the identical time. We can have each affecting our inhabitants on the identical time.”
The strongest indication that the flu is more likely to hit the US this winter is what occurred in the course of the Southern Hemisphere winter. The flu has made a comeback in some nations, equivalent to Australia, the place respiratory infections peaked months sooner than regular and precipitated one of many worst flu seasons in years.
What occurs within the Southern Hemisphere winter usually predicts what occurs north of the equator.
“If now we have a severe flu season, and if omicron variants proceed to trigger principally gentle sickness, the approaching winter flu season could be a lot worse than COVID,” warns Schaffner.
And the mixture of the 2 viruses could significantly pressure the well being care system, he stated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu causes between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations annually.
“We ought to be involved,” says Dr. Richard Webby, an infectious illness specialist at St. Louis University. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “I do not suppose it is essentially a priority for the hills. But we should always be involved.”
The predominant motive why the flu has disappeared over the previous two years is as a result of individuals have modified their conduct to keep away from COVID, equivalent to staying house, avoiding social gatherings, carrying masks and never touring. It additionally prevented the unfold of flu viruses. However, these measures had been largely rejected.
“As group mitigation measures started to unfold around the globe and folks returned to their regular actions, the flu started to unfold around the globe,” stated Dr. Alicia Frye, director of influenza epidemiology and prevention for the CDC. “We can count on a flu season this yr – for positive.”
Young youngsters are particularly harmful
The CDC says the flu has began to unfold in components of the South, together with Texas. And specialists warn that very younger youngsters could be at specific threat this yr.
Although COVID-19 is often gentle for younger individuals, the flu often poses the best threat to each the aged and kids. The predominant pressure of flu presently circulating, H3N2, impacts the aged most severely. However, well being specialists are additionally fearful about younger youngsters who haven’t had a chilly in two years.
“You have 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds seeing it for the primary time, and none of them are proof against the flu,” says Dr. Helen Chu, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology on the University of Washington.
In reality, the flu appears to be hitting younger individuals notably onerous in Australia.
“We know that colleges are actually scorching spots for the flu. They’re actually thought to be the drivers of infectious illness,” Chu stated. “They will be the distributors. Then they are going to take it to their dad and mom. The dad and mom will take it to the office. They will assist and take it to the grandparents who reside within the nursing house. And then that inhabitants. then they are going to get very sick with the flu.
“I feel we’re heading into flu season,” Chu says.
“Viral interference” can negate the dangers
Some specialists doubt that COVID and the flu will hit the nation on the identical time, due to a phenomenon referred to as “viral interference,” wherein publicity to at least one virus reduces the danger of publicity to the opposite. This is a further motive why the flu has been absent for the previous two years.
“These two viruses could each be rising on the identical time, however my intestine feeling is that they don’t seem to be occurring concurrently, they’re occurring sequentially,” Webby says. “So I’m much less fearful about twindemics.”
Even so, Webby and others encourage individuals to get everybody of their household vaccinated towards the flu as quickly as attainable, particularly if flu season is early within the US. (Generally, officers do not push individuals to get flu pictures till October.)
So far, this year’s flu vaccines are an excellent match for the circulating strains, so they need to present efficient safety.
But well being officers fear that fewer flu pictures will be out there this yr due to a heightened response to the COVID vaccines. Flu vaccine efficiency is already lagging.
“We fear that folks won’t get vaccinated. And the flu vaccine is the very best prevention software now we have,” CDC’s Frye stated.
Frye additionally hopes that a number of the habits individuals have developed to take care of COVID will proceed and assist mitigate the results of the flu.
“The wild card right here is that we do not know what number of mitigation practices individuals will use,” Fry says. “For instance, now individuals keep house once they’re sick as an alternative of going to work. They do not let their children go to highschool. Schools are strict about protecting children out of college in the event that they’re sick. All of this stuff can scale back the unfold of illness. .”