Health experts are warning the country to prepare for what could be an unusually severe flu season this fall and winter, as more people who haven’t developed immunity in recent years mix and mingle. There are two big reasons why more people may be vulnerable to the flu this year.
The first is that with coronavirus restrictions such as wearing masks almost forgotten, people are more likely to come into contact with the flu virus this year than in the past two years.
The second reason is that fewer people are likely to be immune to the flu virus this year, as fewer people have had the flu in the past two years – as the pandemic locked people down and people s were more worried about contracting COVID-19.
Richard Webby, a virologist in the infectious disease department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said the past two flu seasons simply haven’t seen the same levels of flu exposure.
“As a population, our immunity to the flu is a bit on the decline,” Webby said. “When the virus comes back, it will probably have a little more room to spread, a little more room to potentially cause disease.”
In a normal year, exposure to influenza virus generates some community immunity, as approximately 10-30% of people are exposed to influenza in a normal season.
But fewer people were exposed in 2020 and 2021, leading to a drop in natural immunity.
For example, pediatric flu deaths normally exceeded 100 each year before the pandemic.
But over the past two flu seasons, the number of flu-related pediatric deaths has fallen to less than 40, with only one confirmed pediatric death in 2020.
This reduced population immunity means people are at a higher risk of catching the flu this year, according to Webby.
Amesh Adalja, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the flu season over the past two years has been essentially “non-existent” and added that this trend is always expected to end a times social distancing has become less practiced.
According to Adalja, evidence of the flu coming back is a sign that people are returning to “some semblance of their pre-COVID lives.”
The southern hemisphere gives the United States a glimpse of what is to come.
It’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and these countries have had a tough flu season. Australia, for example, had its worst flu season in five years, with the case rate peaking earlier than usual in the country.
In 2020 and 2021, the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care noted a lower rate of reported influenza cases and severity, with only 37 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths reported in 2020 and none reported in 2021. Influenza hospitalizations and deaths hit a historic low in Australia last year.
There were nearly 600 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in Australia in 2021. During this year’s flu season, the country reported more than 217,000 cases, although this figure is still lower than in 2019, when Australia reported more than 300,000 cases, the highest number. registered cases for the country.
Webby noted that flu deaths and hospitalizations in Australia were still relatively low this year despite the country’s significant flu season. Deaths and hospitalizations are largely due to infections in the elderly, and Australia has always practiced precautions when it comes to this demographic.
If such precautions are also taken in the United States, an increase in flu hospitalizations and deaths could also be avoided, Webby said.
Experts who spoke with The Hill agreed that what has been seen in the Southern Hemisphere appears to be some sort of return to a normal flu season, one that has not been “suppressed” by the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. Both Webby and Adalja doubted a ‘dual outbreak’ of flu and coronavirus would occur this year.
“I don’t think these two viruses can somehow become gangbusters at the same time,” Webby said.
With the recent authorization of the bivalent COVID-19 booster dose, the White House has started recommending that people get both their boosters and their flu shots at the same time, in hopes of avoiding flare-ups. of the two viruses.
For the 2022-2023 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said September and October are good times to get vaccinated.
With many people aware of COVID-19 likely to receive their reminders sooner rather than later, some have wondered if September, when COVID-19 reminders became available, is too early to get a flu shot and whether it would be better to get the two shots at different times.
Adalja said it’s best to time your flu shot so that it’s effective throughout flu season.
“If you get it too early, there’s clear evidence it will fade by the end of the season,” he said. “Traditionally, it peaked around February. So if you get your flu shot in early September, you can’t expect it to be as effective at the end of flu season. So I’ve always recommended people get a flu shot around the end of October.
Adalja further said he does not believe the White House’s recommendation to get a flu shot at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines is based on evidence.
“What they’re trying to do is increase the use of both and come up with some kind of gimmick so people get, you know, a two-for-one, when that can really mess up the effectiveness of the flu vaccine if given too soon,” Adalja said.
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