TThe last two flu seasons in the US have been largely mild – one of the few silver lining aspects of the pandemic, where COVID-19 Mitigation Measures It is also likely 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 this Worst flu season in half a decade This year, CNN reports. Flu season has also started in Australia this year, another potential harbinger of what’s to come in the northern hemisphere.
Dr. Alicia Fry, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) influenza division, warns that “if you see one flu season, you see one flu season” — which means the virus is unpredictable and guesswork is not. Always accurate. “Whether it’s a harsh season or a mild season, what to expect, or what viruses might spread — we really don’t know,” Fry says.
However, there are some factors that could make the United States in a more dangerous flu season this year, says Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Medical Center in Utah. The severity of the flu season varies slightly from year to year, depending on factors including the immunity of the population and the strain of influenza circulating. “Individuals who have had influenza in the previous year may have some incomplete or partial immunity,” Webb explains. Because few people have been infected within the past two influenza seasons, “we are looking globally, and especially in the United States, to report low levels of community immunity to influenza.”
Easing COVID-19 mitigation measures such as maskFry says that social distancing, remote work and education could also allow the flu to spread as it did before the pandemic.
Webb says the possibility of a severe flu season hitting the still widely circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus is worrisome for the health care system. “If we even have a medium to high flu season that generates 300,000 or 400,000 hospitalizations and we also have to deal with a COVID wave in the fall or winter, that could put a strain on hospital systems across the country,” he says.
The best thing people can do, Fry says, is to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.
On September 1, federal health officials recommended That people 12 and older receive a new bivalent COVID-19 booster, which targets Omicron variants currently in circulation. Updated shots are available for teens, tweens, and adults who are at least 2 months away from the last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (although Some experts recommend waiting a bit longer). Meanwhile, the CDC recommend Get a flu shot by the end of October.
“If a person wants to have both at the same time, they can,” Fry says. in September 6 press conferenceAnd the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha. “I really think that’s why God gave us two arms – one for the flu vaccine and one for the COVID vaccine,” he said.
One day, it may be easier to get double protection against COVID-19 and the flu. Vaccine makers Moderna And the Novavax They are working on shots that target both viruses in a single injection. It’s not clear if these composite shots are available, but their development offers a glimpse of what living with both COVID-19 and influenza might look like going forward.
There are still many unknowns about the flu season looming this year. Webb recommends monitoring rates of COVID-19 and influenza and taking precautions accordingly. People at high risk of acute respiratory illness, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions, may want to consider wearing a mask in crowded places.
There’s at least one thing that 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 the way people deal with infectious diseases.
“People, in general, are now more aware of the importance of infection control,” Webb says. “I hope we’ll have a different culture in terms of realizing that when you’re sick, it’s better to stay home.”
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