Flu Season May Collide with COVID-19 This Fall and Winter


The final two flu seasons within the U.S. have been mercifully delicate—one of many few silver linings of the pandemic, as COVID-19 mitigation measures seemingly additionally prevented many instances of influenza.

However our luck could run out this yr. Australia, which regularly serves as an (imperfect) predictor of what’s to return for the U.S., has had its worst flu season in half a decade this yr, CNN studies. Flu season additionally began early in Australia this yr, one other attainable harbinger of what’s to return within the Northern Hemisphere.

Dr. Alicia Fry, chief of the epidemiology and prevention department throughout the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s (CDC) influenza division, cautions that “when you’ve seen one flu season, you’ve seen one flu season”—which means the virus is unpredictable and guesses about it aren’t all the time correct. “Whether or not it will likely be a extreme season or a light season, or what to anticipate, or what viruses would possibly flow into—that we actually simply don’t know,” Fry says.

Nonetheless, there are some components that might arrange the U.S. for a extra severe flu season this yr, says Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious illness specialist at Utah’s Intermountain Medical Middle. Flu season severity varies fairly a bit from yr to yr, relying on components together with immunity within the inhabitants and which influenza pressure is circulating. “People who get influenza the yr prior most likely carry over some incomplete or partial immunity,” Webb explains. Since few folks acquired contaminated in the course of the previous two flu seasons, “we’re globally, and particularly within the U.S., file low group immunity ranges to influenza.”

The comfort of COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, social distancing, and distant working and education might additionally enable influenza to unfold because it did earlier than the pandemic, Fry says.

Learn Extra: You Can Still Get Long COVID If You’re Vaccinated and Boosted

The opportunity of a heavy flu season colliding with the nonetheless extensively circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus is regarding for the well being care system, Webb says. “If we have now even a moderate-to-high influenza season that generates 300,000 or 400,000 hospitalizations and are additionally having to cope with a fall or winter COVID wave, that might put a pressure on hospital methods across the nation,” he says.

The perfect factor for people to do is get vaccinated sooner somewhat than later, Fry says.

On Sept. 1, federal well being officers recommended that individuals 12 and older get a brand new bivalent COVID-19 booster, which targets at present circulating Omicron variants. The up to date photographs can be found to adolescents, youngsters, and adults who’re at the least two months out from their final COVID-19 vaccine dose (although some experts recommend waiting a bit longer). In the meantime, the CDC recommends getting a flu shot by the tip of October.

“If an individual desires to get each on the similar time, they’ll,” Fry says. In a Sept. 6 press briefing, White Home COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha concurred. “I actually imagine this is the reason God gave us two arms—one for the flu shot and the opposite one for the COVID shot,” he stated.

Sometime, it might be even simpler to get twin safety towards COVID-19 and the flu. Vaccine makers Moderna and Novavax are engaged on photographs that will goal each viruses in a single injection. It’s not clear if or when these mixture photographs may be obtainable, however their improvement provides a glimpse into what residing with each COVID-19 and influenza could seem like transferring ahead.

Many unknowns stay about even this yr’s looming flu season. Webb recommends keeping track of each COVID-19 and influenza charges and taking precautions accordingly. Individuals at greater danger for extreme respiratory illness, together with aged folks and people with underlying situations, would possibly wish to take into account sporting a masks in crowded settings.

At the very least one factor makes Webb optimistic about this yr’s flu season: Regardless of all of the speak of pandemic fatigue, he thinks there’s been a cultural shift in the best way folks handle infectious ailments.

“Individuals are, usually, rather more conscious now in regards to the significance of an infection management,” Webb says. “I’d hope that we have now a unique tradition when it comes to recognizing that while you’re unwell, it’s greatest to remain dwelling.”

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.

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