The flu nearly disappeared for 2 years because the pandemic raged. However influenza seems poised to stage a come-back this yr within the U.S., threatening to trigger a long-feared “twindemic.”
Whereas the flu and the coronavirus are each notoriously unpredictable, there is a good probability COVID circumstances will surge once more this winter, and troubling indicators that the flu may return too.
“This might very effectively be the yr by which we see a twindemic,” says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious illness professor at Vanderbilt College. “That’s, we’ve got a surge in COVID and concurrently a rise in influenza. We may have them each affecting our inhabitants on the identical time.”
The strongest indication that the flu may hit the U.S. this winter is what occurred throughout the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. Flu returned to some nations, corresponding to Australia, the place the respiratory an infection began ramping up months sooner than regular, and brought about one of many worst flu seasons in recent times.
What occurs within the Southern Hemisphere’s winter usually foreshadows what is going on to occur north of the equator.
“If we’ve got a critical influenza season, and if the omicron variants proceed to trigger principally delicate illness, this coming winter may very well be a a lot worse flu season than COVID,” Schaffner warns.
And the mixture of the 2 viruses may significantly pressure the well being system, he says. The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention estimates that flu causes between 140,00 and 710,000 hospitalizations yearly.
“We must be frightened,” says Dr. Richard Webby, an infectious illness specialist at St. Jude Kids’s Analysis Hospital. “I do not essentially suppose it is run-for-the-hills frightened. However we must be frightened.”
The primary purpose the flu mainly disappeared the final two years was the conduct modifications folks made to keep away from COVID, corresponding to staying residence, avoiding public gatherings, sporting masks, and never touring. That prevented flu viruses from spreading too. However these measures have principally been deserted.
“Because the neighborhood mitigation measures begin to roll off around the globe and folks return to their regular actions, flu has began to flow into around the globe,” says Dr. Alicia Fry, who leads influenza epidemiology and prevention for the CDC. “We will count on a flu season this yr — for certain.”
Younger children at particularly excessive threat
The CDC is reporting that the flu is already beginning to unfold in components of the south, corresponding to Texas. And specialists warning very younger children could also be particularly in danger this yr.
Although COVID-19 typically has been delicate for younger folks, the flu sometimes poses the largest risk to each the aged and kids. The primary pressure of flu that is at the moment circulating, H3N2, tends to hit the aged arduous. However well being specialists are additionally frightened about younger youngsters who haven’t been uncovered to flu for 2 years.
“You could have the 1-year-olds, the 2-year-olds, and the 3-year-olds who will all be seeing it for the primary time, and none of them have any preexisting immunity to influenza,” says Dr. Helen Chu, assistant professor of drugs and allergy and infectious ailments and an adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology on the College of Washington.
In reality, the flu does seem to have hit youthful folks particularly arduous in Australia.
“We all know that colleges are actually the locations the place influenza spreads. They’re actually thought-about the drivers of transmission,” Chu says. “They will be the spreaders. They may then take it residence to the dad and mom. The dad and mom will then take it to the office. They will take it to the grandparents who’re in assisted residing, nursing residence. After which these populations will then get fairly sick with the flu.”
“I believe we’re heading into a foul flu season,” Chu says.
‘Viral interference’ may offset the dangers
Some specialists doubt COVID and flu will hit the nation concurrently due to a phenomenon generally known as “viral interference,” which happens when an infection with one virus reduces the chance of catching one other. That is a further doable purpose why flu disappeared the final two years.
“These two viruses should still each happen throughout the identical season, however my intestine feeling is they will occur sequentially fairly than each on the identical time,” Webby says. “So I am much less involved concerning the twindemic.”
However, Webby and others are urging folks to ensure everybody within the household will get a flu shot as quickly as doable, particularly if the flu season arrives early within the U.S. too. (Most years officers do not begin pushing folks to get their flu pictures till October.)
To date it seems like this yr’s flu vaccines are match with the circulating strains and so ought to present efficient safety.
However well being officers worry fewer folks will get flu pictures this yr than standard due to anti-vaccine sentiment that elevated in response to COVID vaccinations. Flu vaccine charges are already lagging.
“We’re frightened that individuals won’t get vaccinated. And influenza vaccine is the perfect prevention software that we’ve got,” the CDC’s Fry says.
Fry additionally hopes that a number of the habits folks developed to struggle COVID will proceed and assist blunt the impression of the flu.
“The wild card right here is we do not know what number of mitigation practices folks will use,” Fry says. “For instance, folks now keep residence once they’re sick as an alternative of going to work. They maintain their children out of college. Faculties are strict about not letting children come to highschool if their sick. All of some of these issues may scale back transmission.”