Final fall, as coronavirus instances climbed and the world hoped for vaccines, well being consultants feared influenza and Covid-19 would mix for a devastating “twindemic.”
Whereas pandemic measures appeared to maintain the flu at bay, this yr consultants are once more involved, particularly as some nations and state authorities roll again lockdown guidelines. Many officers and consultants are urging the general public: Don’t dismiss the hazard of the flu, and search a flu vaccine.
“This yr we’re assured to have the flu, and we’re going to have some model of a twindemic,” stated Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director for the Nationwide Basis for Infectious Ailments. “It may actually additional pressure an already terribly stretched, strained, tired-to-the-bone well being care system.”
The US is grappling with a mean of greater than 160,000 new coronavirus instances a day. Hospitals and intensive care items are filling up with Covid-19 sufferers. On the similar time, masks mandates and social distancing have been relaxed in some locations, which means contagious respiratory sicknesses can unfold extra simply than they did final yr.
Dr. Schaffner warned that medical suppliers now needed to remind folks about influenza: “We’re going to must say, ‘There’s one other nasty respiratory virus, and don’t blow it off.’”
In the US, flu exercise was considerably decrease in the course of the 2020-21 season than throughout any earlier flu season since at the least 1997, the primary for which information is publicly out there.
Scientists stated pandemic precautions probably performed a job, as many individuals adopted masking, social-distancing and hand-washing habits.
“The shortage of influenza final yr was actually outstanding,” stated Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious illness knowledgeable on the College of Virginia. “It could be that peoples’ willingness to put on masks and wash fingers often and concentrate on signs could assist us transferring ahead. And I actually hope that seems to be the story.”
Consultants hope these behaviors will carry over into the approaching flu season, particularly as extra folks return to public transit, eating places, faculties and places of work.
However the US and a quantity of different nations are not unified in how one can confront the pandemic, and a few folks have stopped taking these precautions.
That would imply further burdens for hospitals already treating massive numbers of Covid sufferers.
“Given our politics, a Covid/flu surge will likely be erratically distributed to well being care techniques,” Dr. Jackson stated.
The relative lack of flu instances during the last 18 months may additionally imply that population-level immunity to the flu is decrease this season, stated Lynnette Brammer, the chief of the C.D.C.’s home influenza surveillance crew.
And whereas it’s nonetheless unsure how the season will play out, she added, relaxed pandemic measures in some locations will “probably outcome within the resumption of seasonal flu virus circulation.”
“This all may set us up for a probably extreme flu season,” she added.
Within the Northern Hemisphere, the season begins in October and can final via Could. Within the Southern Hemisphere, it sometimes happens from April via September.
The C.D.C. advises everybody over the age of 6 months outdated to get the shot, with just a few exceptions. Vaccination is very necessary for some teams of individuals, together with these with underlying well being situations, older adults and younger kids, Ms. Brammer stated.
It takes about two weeks for cover to develop after vaccination, so consultants suggest getting vaccinated from September via the top of October, however even after that it’s higher to get the vaccine than not.
As a result of viruses mutate, requiring a brand new vaccine yearly, even individuals who obtained a flu shot final yr want one other this yr, they stated. For any given season, vaccines are tailor-made to the forms of influenza viruses — there are numerous — which can be circulating or probably to be circulating.
Sure, one doesn’t shield in opposition to the opposite. Vaccines are supposed to focus on particular viruses: Simply because the Covid-19 vaccines are manufactured for the coronavirus, flu vaccines goal influenza viruses.
Which means flu photographs this yr will likely be doled out as some persons are getting preliminary and booster photographs for the coronavirus.
“There’s vaccine fatigue on the market,” Dr. Schaffner stated. “However we’re going to have to inform folks, ‘Oh no, you want a special one’, proper on the time we’re boosting.”
Sure. The C.D.C. says the vaccine could be administered with out regard to the timing of different vaccines.
Unwanted side effects are typically related when the vaccines are given concurrently as when they’re administered alone, the C.D.C. says.
Dr. Kevin Ban, the chief medical officer at Walgreens, stated, “Not solely is it potential, however we extremely encourage folks to be vaccinated for each flu and Covid.”
Vaccines obtained on the similar time don’t trigger cumulative reactions, Dr. L.J. Tan, Immunization Motion Coalition’s Chief Coverage and Partnerships Officer, stated in an interview. “It isn’t like you’re including it on.”
Frequent reactions to the flu vaccine generally is a sore arm, and a few folks may get a bit of drained, he stated.
If you happen to do get the flu shot and the Covid-19 vaccine on the similar time, consultants advise utilizing completely different arms to keep away from soreness, or at the least spacing the injection website for every shot by at the least one inch.
Sure. The flu, Covid-19 and different respiratory sicknesses have related signs, together with cough, fever and physique aches. Solely testing can determine which virus a affected person has, or if a affected person has each.
Completely different assessments are used for every, and figuring out the distinction is crucial to remedy. Antiviral therapies exist for influenza, and a few sufferers with Covid-19 obtain monoclonal antibody remedy.
“Medical doctors are going to must do a complete lot extra testing this yr than up to now,” Dr. Schaffner stated. “It is very important know who has bought what.”
The C.D.C. estimates that the flu has killed 12,000 to 61,000 folks a yr since 2010. (Greater than 650,000 deaths have been linked to the coronavirus pandemic in the US.)
About 80 % of kids who’ve died of influenza in previous years had not been vaccinated, based on analysis cited this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The flu has the capability to take a “completely regular little one and put them within the emergency room in 48 hours,” Dr. Schaffner stated. Youngsters have died from the flu after they grew to become septic or bought pneumonia, he stated.
A giant issue for the low flu numbers final season was that kids have been attending faculty remotely and avoiding teams, he stated.
“Youngsters are actually the nice disseminators of the influenza virus,” Dr. Schaffner stated. “They shed extra virus than do adults, and so they shed the virus for an extended time period. They unfold it amongst themselves after which deliver it dwelling.”
This educational yr, many kids are going again to in-person studying, and a few are not required to put on masks.
If kids who haven’t gotten a flu shot get the flu, they need to nonetheless be vaccinated after they get better. Consultants added that kids sick with Covid-19 mustn’t get the flu vaccine till they’ve recovered.
Additionally they suggest pregnant girls get the flu vaccine, as its safety passes via the placenta.
Antibiotics will not be efficient in opposition to the flu, however antiviral medicine can ease signs. They need to ideally be given inside 48 hours of the onset of signs. Folks with the flu ought to relaxation and drink loads of water, and most will get better inside every week.
Pharmacies together with Walgreens and CVS, and at Walmart supply free flu photographs. There are cellular apps to make appointments and on-line vaccination finders.
Public well being officers and consultants stated that vaccination was so necessary as a result of it reduces the possibilities of extreme, generally deadly sickness.
“We are able to’t shut it off like a light-weight change,” Dr. Schaffner stated. “However we are able to dim it.”