Countries within the Northern Hemisphere are dealing with an unpredictable winter as COVID-19 continues to unfold throughout the flu season, consultants have warned.
Last 12 months, when governments really useful a variety of protecting measures resembling mask-wearing, social distancing and lockdowns to sluggish COVID-19 infections, the variety of influenza instances dropped dramatically in contrast with the seasonal common.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) about 20 p.c of the inhabitants catches the flu every year, however that determine fell by greater than 99 p.c in 2020-21. There have been no hospitalised instances nor fatalities reported from influenza final season.
Cases this 12 months have remained low, in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO), however with COVID restrictions being lifted in lots of components of the world, youngsters again in class, and the coronavirus persevering with to unfold, consultants are urging folks to stay cautious. An uptick of influenza instances may burden well being programs already dealing with difficulties attributable to outbreaks of COVID-19.
What is influenza, and when does the season for it begin (North and South)?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory sickness attributable to influenza viruses that flow into world wide and are sometimes extra prevalent when it’s chilly.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 4 sorts of influenza viruses A, B, C and D.
But “human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease known as flu season.”
People with influenza typically present signs like fever, cough, muscle and joint ache, headache, runny nostril and sore throat. Generally, folks recuperate from these signs with out requiring medical consideration, however the virus can even trigger extreme sickness or dying, particularly in high-risk populations.
According to the WHO, annual influenza epidemics are answerable for about three to 5 million instances of extreme sickness, and about 290,000 to 650000 respiratory deaths.
During peak seasons an influenza epidemic can overwhelm well being programs. In the Northern Hemisphere, the season can begin in October and final till April or May. In the Southern Hemisphere, the season can run from April-September.
Could this season be tougher than others?
Experts have stated it’s tough to foretell the severity of the flu season within the Northern Hemisphere, however some have warned it could possibly be difficult this 12 months.
Last 12 months, influenza exercise was dramatically decrease in contrast with the earlier years in each the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.
Due to the far decrease variety of infections final 12 months, the strains circulating this 12 months could also be tougher for folks’s immune programs to detect, which may depart folks extra vulnerable to an infection and should even result in extra extreme sickness.
“Natural immunity wanes, so with little influenza last year, people are more susceptible,” Dr Robert Klugman, medical director of worker well being at UMass Memorial Health in Worcester informed Al Jazeera.
Dr Amesh Adalja, senior scholar on the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, stated folks proceed to take precautions in opposition to catching or transmitting COVID-19, which may result in a milder flu season in contrast with these earlier than the COVID pandemic.
“A lot of the people are still doing some of the mitigation measures from COVID-19 that had an impact on flu, like social distancing, wearing masks, being careful when they are in a high-risk setting,” stated Dr Adalja.
“So I do think that flu is going to be more common this season in the Northern Hemisphere than it was last season, but I think it might be a milder season than the ones we had in the pre-COVID era,” he added.
Experts additionally warned that a rise in flu instances may overwhelm well being programs in international locations the place COVID-19 hospitalisations are excessive.
“We have a proportion of people that are still susceptible to COVID-19 infections due to immune problems and not being vaccinated,” Dr Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-disease skilled on the University of Alberta, stated.
“That could easily overwhelm our health care system and if we just add that layer of influenza on top of that, it would be a high-risk scenario.”
According to Dr Saxinger the influenza season ordinarily “results in health care systems strained”.
Can we get the flu and the COVID-19 vaccines on the similar time?
A report launched by the Lancet in November stated it’s protected to administer each vaccines on the similar time, noting that giving each photographs in a single sitting “could reduce the burden on health-care systems”.
“It is quite routine to get multiple vaccines at the same time,” Dr Saxinger stated. “I think that is a real opportunity, because people are much more likely to comply or take the second vaccine if it can be done in the same visit.”
Regarding the negative effects, Dr Saxinger stated some folks have almost none and others have some signs associated to “an immune response.”
The CDC additionally famous that each vaccines may be “given at the same time”, whereas including that negative effects are “generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines”.
How can we mitigate dangers?
Experts have stated that a lot of the well being steering that has been launched throughout the pandemic might help to mitigate the chance of spreading the flu.
According to the CDC, the well being measures that assist to guard in opposition to the flu are: keep away from shut contact with people who find themselves sick, keep home when sick, wash fingers usually, keep away from touching the eyes, nostril or mouth, and canopy the mouth and nostril.
“The measures against COVID worked excellently against influenza,” Dr Saxinger stated. “I actually think that if people keep up the use of masks, [and] are judicious about their interactions, it would make a huge difference.”
Dr Ricardo Soto-Rifo of the University of Chile’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, additionally highlighted using masks.
“The face masks act as a barrier,” Dr Soto-Rifo stated. “And it works both ways, they protect you from spreading the virus, but also they keep the virus out,” he added.
“There are different types of masks some better than others in terms of the protection they provide, but they definitely help and make a difference.”
What classes can the north be taught from the Southern Hemisphere?
According to the WHO, the influenza season within the Southern Hemisphere this 12 months was comparable to the earlier 12 months. In a report launched in September, the organisation stated that in Australia, the well being authorities reported “influenza-like illness activity remained at historically low levels.”
The WHO stated that comparable tendencies have been additionally noticed in Chile “where sentinel hospital data show influenza activity falling to nearly zero in the spring of 2020 and largely remaining there throughout 2020 and 2021.”
Dr Soto-Rifo stated that completely different variables may clarify the low charges of flu.
“In Chile, the vaccination campaign started having an effect, there were also mobility measures well established, and the use of masks was mandatory,” Soto-Rifo stated.
“So, we saw how the numbers of deaths and hospital occupation dramatically dropped,” he added.
However, as summer season begins within the Southern Hemisphere, and a few measures are relaxed, Dr Soto-Rifo stated there are considerations that COVID-19 instances considerations may develop.
“Last summer, we saw a dramatic increase of cases, so it’s still very uncertain what follows next,” he added.
According to Dr Soto-Rifo one problem that Chile did observe throughout its winter was the rise of charges of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in youngsters – this can be a widespread virus that sometimes infects younger folks and may typically trigger pneumonia.
“Children are good vectors of respiratory viruses, but keeping the measures in place helped,” Soto-Rifo stated.
“I think the most important thing that we should not forget is that we are still in a pandemic, and as tiring as it might be, we need to keep the health measures in place.”