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 might run out this 12 months. 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 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 inside 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 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 elements that might arrange the U.S. for a extra severe flu season this 12 months, says Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious illness specialist at Utah’s Intermountain Medical Middle. Flu season severity varies fairly a bit from 12 months to 12 months, relying on elements together with immunity within the inhabitants and which influenza pressure is circulating. “People who get influenza the 12 months prior in all probability carry over some incomplete or partial immunity,” Webb explains. Since few individuals received contaminated throughout the previous two flu seasons, “we’re globally, and particularly within the U.S., report low group immunity ranges to influenza.”
The relief of COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, social distancing, and distant working and education may additionally permit influenza to unfold because it did earlier than the pandemic, Fry says.
The potential for a heavy flu season colliding with the nonetheless broadly circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus is regarding for the well being care system, Webb says. “If we’ve got even a moderate-to-high influenza season that generates 300,000 or 400,000 hospitalizations and are additionally having to take care of a fall or winter COVID wave, that might put a pressure on hospital programs across the nation,” he says.
The very best 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 the moment 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 needs to get each on the identical 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 mentioned.
Sometime, it could 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 could be accessible, however their growth affords a glimpse into what residing with each COVID-19 and influenza might appear to be shifting 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. Individuals at increased danger for extreme respiratory illness, together with aged individuals and people with underlying circumstances, may wish to think about sporting a masks in crowded settings.
At the least 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 way in which individuals handle infectious illnesses.
“Persons are, normally, way more conscious now concerning the significance of an infection management,” Webb says. “I’d hope that we’ve got a distinct tradition by way of recognizing that while you’re unwell, it’s finest to remain house.”
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