Prepare for another complicated flu season, with chance of a…

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AHCJ’s main topic leader on infectious diseases is Bara Vaida (@barav). She has written extensively about health policy and infectious illnesses as an independent journalist.
Her work has been featured in publications such as the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, and The Washington Post.
As flu season approaches, infectious disease and public health specialists are more more concerned than they were in 2020 about the likelihood of a “twindemic” of both the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant and an influenza virus.

As of early September, hospitals in several states were already overflowing with COVID-19 patients, and the behavioral constraints that had prevented a catastrophic flu season (such as masking and social distancing) had been loosened across vast swaths of the country.

Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, “We have taken off our masks, people are going out and traveling, they are going out to restaurants and entertainment venues, and most importantly, children are back to school.”

“This is especially concerning because hospitals are already overburdened, and the idea of another terrible respiratory virus spreading and causing significant sickness makes everyone in health care shudder.”

There is a vaccine to prevent the flu, just as there is for COVID-19, and the CDC, as well as infectious disease physicians, have began pressing the public to get their flu shot. This year, however, the prospect of people needing a COVID-19 booster shot at the same time as the flu vaccine adds to the issue.

Journalists will assist the public in sorting out doubts about the need for two flu shots at the same time in the 2021-2022 flu season, according to Schaffner.

He stated, “I’m already getting questions about whether a COVID-19 shot will prevent the flu or if a flu shot will prevent COVID-19.” “There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there.”

COVID-19 and influenza are caused by separate viruses, therefore a vaccine for one does not protect against the other, according to Schaffner. People can get a COVID-19 and flu vaccine at the same time, but not in the same arm, according to him.

“I would advise you not to plan anything complicated the next day [after you have your vaccinations] because you may experience some side effects, especially with the COVID vaccine,” he said. “Some people are experiencing discomfort, headaches, and fatigue.”

There is currently no flu and COVID-19 vaccine combination, but Moderna said on Sept. 9 that it would begin testing one in the coming months.

Infectious disease and public health professionals voiced fear about a twindemic in the fall of 2020, but it did not occur. The flu was practically non-existent. The key explanation, according to researchers, was social distancing measures implemented during last year’s flu season.

“We had a low influenza season, which was a welcome surprise,” Schaffner added. “How behavioral interventions slowed the spread of the influenza virus was striking… However, because behavioral treatments have been lifted, everything we did last year has been reversed.”

According to Schaffner, children are the principal carriers of influenza virus to others, particularly grandparents and individuals with compromised immune systems. Last winter, most youngsters were not in school and spent much of their time at home, restricting their ability to spread the virus. Because children are back in school this year, public health officials are on high alert for a potentially more severe flu season.

Because social distance restrictions were eased this summer, there was a delayed rise in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) incidence among youngsters, potentially indicating what could happen with the flu this winter.

“We almost have to reacquaint everyone to the flu and tell everyone that the flu isn’t trivial, and there will be all kinds of confusion about this in this atmosphere of true vaccine fatigue,” Schaffner said.

Prior to COVID-19, the flu was one of the deadliest respiratory viruses in the United States, killing between 24,000 and 62,000 people in the 2019-2020 flu season and sickening 410,000 to 740,000 individuals to the point of hospitalization.

More AHCJ flu coverage history can be found here, as well as contact information for reporters.

On Oct. 7, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will hold their annual flu briefing for the media. Journalists can sign up for the event here.




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