Experts warn that as COVID-19 continues to spread during the flu season, countries in the northern hemisphere are facing an unpredictable winter.
Last year, when the government recommended a series of protective measures (such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and lockdowns) to slow down the COVID-19 infection, the number of flu cases Dropped Significantly compared to the seasonal average.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) about Every year 20% of the population is infected with influenza, but this number has dropped by more than 99% in 2020-21.No hospitalizations or deaths Report The flu from last season.
This year’s cases still exist lowAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), experts urge people to be cautious as COVID restrictions are lifted in many parts of the world, children return to school, and the coronavirus continues to spread. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the increase in flu cases may burden the health system that is already facing difficulties.
What is the flu, and when does the flu season start (North and South)?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza virus. It spreads worldwide and is usually more prevalent in cold weather.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Have Four influenza viruses A, B, C and D.
But “human influenza A and B viruses can cause seasonal epidemics, called influenza season.”
Influenza patients usually experience symptoms such as fever, cough, muscle and joint pain, headache, runny nose, and sore throat. Usually, people can recover from these symptoms without going to a doctor, but the virus can also cause serious illness or death, especially in high-risk groups.
According to WHO, Annual flu epidemic It caused approximately 3 to 5 million serious illnesses and approximately 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths.
During peak seasons, influenza pandemics can overwhelm the health system. In the northern hemisphere, this season can start in October and last until April or May. In the southern hemisphere, this season can run from April to September.
Will this season be more difficult than other seasons?
Experts say it is difficult to predict the severity of the flu season in the northern hemisphere, but some have warned that this year may be full of challenges.
Last year, the flu campaign was Dramatic Both the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere are lower than in previous years.
Since the number of people infected last year was much smaller, the strains circulating this year may be more difficult to detect by people’s immune systems, which may make people more susceptible to infections and may even lead to more serious infections. disease.
“Natural immunity is weakened, so there was almost no flu last year, and people are more susceptible to infection,” Dr. Robert Krugman, director of employee health medicine at the Memorial Health Center at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, told Al Jazeera.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Health Safety Center, said that people continue to take precautions to prevent infection or spread of COVID-19, which may result in a milder flu season than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Adalja said: “Many people are still taking some measures to mitigate COVID-19. These measures have an impact on the flu, such as maintaining social distance, wearing masks, and being careful in high-risk environments.”
He added: “So, I do think that the flu in the northern hemisphere this season will be more common than the previous season, but I think it may be milder than our season before COVID.”
Experts also warn that in countries with high COVID-19 hospitalization rates, the increase in flu cases may overwhelm the health system.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, said: “Some of us are still susceptible to COVID-19 due to immune problems and unvaccinated.”
“This can easily overwhelm our healthcare system. If we add that layer of flu on top of this, it will be a high-risk situation.”
According to Dr. Saxinger, the flu season usually “causes strain on the healthcare system”.
Can we get flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?
A report released in November by The Lancet Said It is safe to vaccinate two vaccines at the same time, and pointed out that a single injection of two vaccines “can reduce the burden on the healthcare system.”
“It is normal to get multiple vaccines at the same time,” Dr. Sassinger said. “I think this is a real opportunity, because if it can be done in the same visit, people are more likely to comply or get a second vaccine.”
Regarding the side effects, Dr. Saxinger said, some people have almost no side effects, while others have some symptoms related to the “immune response.”
The CDC also pointed out that Both Vaccines can be given “simultaneously”, adding that “whether vaccination alone or together with other vaccines, the side effects are usually similar.”
How can we reduce the risk?
Experts say that most of the health guidelines introduced during the pandemic can help reduce the risk of spreading influenza.
According to the CDC, Hygiene measures Measures to help prevent flu include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying at home when sick, washing hands regularly, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and covering your mouth and nose.
“The measures against COVID are very effective against influenza,” said Dr. Sassinger. “I actually think that if people continue to use masks, [and] Treat their interactions wisely and this will have a huge impact. “
Dr. Ricardo Soto-Rifo of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Chile also emphasized the use of masks.
“The mask acts as a barrier,” said Dr. Soto-Rifo. He added: “And it’s two-way. They can protect you from spreading the virus, and at the same time they can keep the virus out.”
“In terms of the protection they provide, there are different types of masks, some are better than others, but they will definitely help and make a difference.”
What lessons can the north learn from the southern hemisphere?
According to the World Health Organization, the flu season in the southern hemisphere this year very similar To the previous year. The organization said in a report released in September that in Australia, health authorities reported that “influenza-like disease activity is still at a historically low level”.
The WHO stated that a similar trend was observed in Chile. “Data from sentinel hospitals there show that influenza activity dropped to nearly zero in the spring of 2020 and remained at that level throughout 2020 and 2021.”
Dr. Soto-Rifo said that different variables can explain the low incidence of influenza.
“In Chile, the vaccination campaign has begun to produce results, complete mobility measures have also been formulated, and the use of masks has been mandatory,” Soto-Rifou said.
“So we have seen how the death toll and hospital occupancy have dropped drastically,” he added.
However, with the beginning of the southern hemisphere summer, some measures have been relaxed, Dr. Soto-Rifo said that there are concerns that COVID-19 cases may increase.
“Last summer, we saw a sharp increase in cases, so what will happen next is still very uncertain,” he added.
According to Dr. Soto-Rifo, one challenge that Chile does observe in winter is the rising incidence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children—a common problem. Virus This usually infects young people and sometimes causes pneumonia.
“Children are good carriers of respiratory viruses, but keeping measures in place will help,” Soto-Rifou said.
“I think the most important thing we shouldn’t forget is that we are still in a pandemic. Although we are tired, we need to keep hygiene measures in place.”