The final two flu seasons within the U.S. had been mercifully delicate—one of many few silver linings of the pandemic, as COVID-19 mitigation measures seemingly additionally prevented many circumstances of influenza.
However our luck might run out this 12 months. Australia, which frequently 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 12 months, CNN studies. Flu season additionally began early in Australia this 12 months, 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 “in the event you’ve seen one flu season, you’ve seen one flu season”—that means the virus is unpredictable and guesses about it aren’t at all times correct. “Whether or not will probably be a extreme season or a light season, or what to anticipate, or what viruses may flow into—that we actually simply don’t know,” Fry says.
Nonetheless, there are some components that would arrange the U.S. for a extra critical flu season this 12 months, says Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious illness specialist at Utah’s Intermountain Medical Heart. Flu season severity varies fairly a bit from 12 months to 12 months, relying on components together with immunity within the inhabitants and which influenza pressure is circulating. “People who get influenza the 12 months prior most likely carry over some incomplete or partial immunity,” Webb explains. Since few individuals acquired contaminated in the course of the previous two flu seasons, “we’re globally, and particularly within the U.S., document low group immunity ranges to influenza.”
The comfort of COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, social distancing, and distant working and education may additionally enable influenza to unfold because it did earlier than the pandemic, Fry says.
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The potential 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 now we have 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 would put a pressure on hospital techniques across the nation,” he says.
The very best factor for people to do is get vaccinated sooner slightly than later, Fry says.
On Sept. 1, federal well being officers advisable that individuals 12 and older get a brand new bivalent COVID-19 booster, which targets presently circulating Omicron variants. The up to date pictures can be found to adolescents, youngsters, and adults who’re no less than two months out from their final COVID-19 vaccine dose (although some specialists advocate ready a bit longer). In the meantime, the CDC recommends getting a flu shot by the tip of October.
“If an individual needs to get each on the identical time, they will,” Fry says. In a Sept. 6 press briefing, White Home COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha concurred. “I actually consider because of this God gave us two arms—one for the flu shot and the opposite one for the COVID shot,” he mentioned.
Sometime, it might be even simpler to get twin safety in opposition to COVID-19 and the flu. Vaccine makers Moderna and Novavax are engaged on pictures that will goal each viruses in a single injection. It’s not clear if or when these mixture pictures may be accessible, however their growth presents a glimpse into what dwelling with each COVID-19 and influenza might appear like transferring ahead.
Many unknowns stay about even this 12 months’s looming flu season. Webb recommends maintaining a tally of each COVID-19 and influenza charges and taking precautions accordingly. Folks at increased threat for extreme respiratory illness, together with aged individuals and people with underlying situations, may wish to contemplate carrying a masks in crowded settings.
Not less than one factor makes Webb optimistic about this 12 months’s flu season: Regardless of all of the speak of pandemic fatigue, he thinks there’s been a cultural shift in the best way individuals handle infectious illnesses.
“Individuals are, usually, far more conscious now concerning the significance of an infection management,” Webb says. “I might hope that now we have a distinct tradition by way of recognizing that while you’re in poor health, it’s greatest to remain dwelling.”
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