Last year’s warnings of a particularly severe flu season didn’t come true, but Australia’s earlier, more severe outbreak doesn’t bode well for the northern hemisphere
September 28, 2022
Along with several other countries, the UK is stepping up efforts to convince at-risk groups, including those 50 and over, to vaccination against both influenza and Coronavirus disease in the next few weeks.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) officials today launched an autumn vaccination campaign against the two respiratory viruses, warning that this winter could be particularly bad for the flu.
At this point, some may be experiencing deja vu. Similar claims were made 12 months ago, but the expected “dual epidemic” of flu and covid-19 did not materialize.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe the warnings this time around. Many people were still practicing social distancing more or less last winter.
In the UK, as omicron began to soar in December, “Plan B” rules were introduced, including mandatory wearing of masks in indoor public places and proof of vaccinations for entry into places such as nightclubs.
There is also less social integration in other areas, such as the wider scope of working from home.
Ultimately, that didn’t stop the omicron surge, but the flu was less transmissible than the coronavirus and was suppressed to very low levels.
The number of people hospitalised with flu in England is one-sixth of what it was in the year before the pandemic.
Keep in mind that during the average winter season, 20 to 30 percent of people will be exposed to the flu virus, although many people have no symptoms. This means that for two years in a row, almost all of these normal exposures did not occur. As winter approaches this year, immunity to the flu will be significantly lower than normal.
Social integration may return to pre-pandemic levels this winter, as no plans to reintroduce restrictions have been announced in the UK. As a result, the upcoming flu season looks set to be the first in three years to allow normal levels of respiratory virus transmission.
Australia’s experience over the past few months, during its winter, provides an indicator of what is likely to happen in the northern hemisphere. The peak of cases there is significantly higher than in the previous three years The covid-19 pandemic has begun.
The main flu variant in Australia this year is called H3N2, and past research shows why Severe illnesses than typical seasonal fluThe virus was linked to higher rates of flu hospitalisations in the UK six years ago.
Fortunately, the influenza vaccine that will be available in the northern hemisphere contains an inactivated form of the H3N2 virus.
Not only is the peak of cases in Australia’s flu season above average this year, but it also occurs earlier in the winter, with surges in May and June rather than July and August.
For this reason, anyone who is eligible in the northern hemisphere must get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, UKHSA said. “You should book asap,” Steve Russellthe NHS director of vaccinations and screenings, said in a statement.
Covid-19 isn’t going away either. The latest figures from hospitals and the Office for National Statistics show cases in the UK are starting to rise again.
“This winter may be the first time we’ve seen the effects of what’s called a ‘twindemic’, where both the coronavirus and the flu are spreading across the board,” Russell said.
The good news is that the rise in covid-19 is not caused by a completely different variant of the coronavirus, but by several new sub-variants of omicron – the bivalent vaccines available in many countries that contain the omicron component. In the UK, unless supplies are disrupted, everyone who offers a booster should offer a bivalent version.
Double threat makes it even more important for eligible groups to receive their covid-19 booster and flu vaccine, says Simon Williams at Swansea University, UK.
“The public health campaign needs to deliver clear and strong messages to vulnerable people and health systems about the risks of influenza and Covid-19 – similar to the earlier ‘Protect the NHS’ campaign that worked with Covid-19,” Williams said.
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