By Travis Decaminada
Key Takeaway: Some health experts are worried about a potentially devastating flu season given that many localities are still battling Covid-19. Research suggests that contracting both Covid-19 and the flu at the same time is extremely dangerous and more than doubles one's risk of dying. Thankfully, early indicators suggest that this year's flu season may be mild, though that may change as time progresses.
The relationship between Covid-19 and influenza is complicated. The Verisk Emerging Issues team reported over the summer that in 2020 Covid-19 was correlated with a reduction in flu cases; attributing that reduction to the protective measures taken to fight Covid-19 like social distancing and wearing masks. This flu season, however, some experts are concerned that decreased protective measures combined with the spread of the more contagious Delta Variant could be setting us up for a “twindemic”.
Per National Geographic, in 2020 there were only 2,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in the United States, down from an average of 200,000. Influenza related hospitalizations were also the lowest ever recorded, and at least one strain of the virus seems to have disappeared entirely. Even countries that failed to implement lockdowns or other safety measures also saw a reduction in flu cases.
However, this year, as things return to normal and with more social interactions taking place, some experts warn that the upcoming flu season could be “severe”. Especially considering that many hospitals are still overwhelmed by Covid-19 and oftentimes stretched for resources. Per National Geographic, in a worst-case scenario as many as 700,000 Americans could be admitted to the hospital with the flu and 52,000 people could potentially lose their lives. Another factor complicating the matter is the number of people who still have some form of immunity to the flu is exceedingly low because influenza infections were so rare in 2020. Moreover, other respiratory diseases are also reportedly on the rise such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which could exacerbate the entire problem.
One predictive model from the University of Pittsburgh found that, given increased socializing and a highly transmissible strain of the flu virus, the yearly average number of flu cases could double. From the article:
One analysis found that the 2021-22 flu season could have around 20 percent more flu cases than normal. Depending on how contagious or unusual the flu strains were, those numbers could climb as high as double the typical caseload, which varies between nine and 45 million cases per year in the U.S.
No Alarms Bells Yet
Reportedly, there is no need to panic just yet. Generally, scientists examine flu cases from the Southern Hemisphere during the months of May to October as a means to predict how severe the Northern Hemisphere’s flu season will be. The article notes that infections in the southern hemisphere remain low, which bodes well for the global north. Additionally, cases remain low within the United States as well, although flu season has just begun.
Vaccines for All
According to National Geographic, one of the best ways to prevent a devastating flu season is to encourage people to get a flu vaccine. Relatedly, it is reportedly safe to get both an influenza vaccine and a Covid-19 vaccine at the same time. Some people may be especially motivated to get both vaccines given that contracting both Covid-19 and the Flu reportedly doubles ones risk of dying, according to The Guardian.
Information on the flu vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Information on the flu vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration.