Health

Flu season May collide with COVID-19 this fall and winter


BILLIONThe past two flu seasons in the United States have been mild — one of the few silver linings of a pandemic, like Measures to mitigate COVID-19 It also has the potential to prevent many cases of the flu.

But our luck may run out this year. Australia, which often acts as an (imperfect) predictor of what is to come for the United States, has worst flu season in half a decade This year, CNN reported. Flu season also started early in Australia this year, another harbinger of possible Northern Hemisphere.

Alicia Fry, director of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the influenza division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warns that “if you’ve seen a flu season, you’ve seen it. a flu season” – meaning the virus is unpredictable and guesses about it are not always correct. “Whether it’s going to be an extreme season or a mild one, or what’s going to happen, or what viruses might be circulating — we really don’t know,” Fry said.

However, there are several factors that could cause the United States to experience a more severe flu season this year, said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease specialist at Utah’s Intermountain Medical Center. The severity of the flu season varies quite a bit from year to year, depending on factors including immunity in the population and what strains of flu are circulating. “People who had the flu last year may have some partial or incomplete immunity,” explains Webb. Since so few people have been infected in the past two flu seasons, “we’re looking at globally, and particularly in the United States, record low levels of herd immunity to influenza.”

The easing of COVID-19 mitigation measures such as maskSocial distancing, working and going to school remotely could also allow the flu to spread like it did before the pandemic, Fry said.

Read more: You can still have prolonged COVID if you’ve been vaccinated and boosted

Webb said the possibility of a severe flu season due to the widely circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus is causing concern for the health care system. “If we have a moderate to high flu season that causes 300,000 or 400,000 hospitalizations and also has to deal with a COVID wave in the fall or winter, that could put strain on systems,” he said. hospital system across the country,” he said.

The best thing people should do is get vaccinated sooner rather than later, Fry said.

On September 1, federal health officials encourage that people 12 years of age and older receive a new bivalent COVID-19 booster that targets currently circulating Omicron variants. The updated shots are available to adolescents, young adults, and adults who are at least two months after their last dose of COVID-19 vaccine (although some experts recommend waiting slightly longer). Meanwhile, the CDC suggestions Get a flu shot at the end of October.

“If a person wants to have both at the same time, they can,” Fry said. In one September 6 press conference, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha also concurred. “I truly believe this is why God gave us two arms – one for the flu shot and the other for the COVID shot,” he said.

It may one day be even easier to get dual protection against COVID-19 and the flu. Vaccine manufacturer Moderna and Novavax is working on footage that can target both viruses in one shot. It’s unclear whether these combination shots may be available, but their development provides a glimpse into what living with both COVID-19 and the flu could be like in the future.

There are still many unknowns about this year’s flu season. Webb recommends monitoring both COVID-19 and flu rates and taking precautions accordingly. People at higher risk of severe respiratory illness, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, may consider wearing a mask in crowded places.

At least one thing makes Webb optimistic about this year’s flu season: Despite all the talk of pandemic fatigue, he thinks there’s been a cultural shift in how people manage infectious diseases.

“Overall, people have become more aware of the importance of infection control,” says Webb. “I hope that we have a different culture in that when you’re sick, it’s best to stay home.”

Other must-read stories from TIME


Write letter for Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.



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