ANDERSON – For more than 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic has dominated news cycles and captured the nation’s attention. But as the United States enters flu season amid an increase in COVID cases due in large part to the delta variant, health professionals warn of the potential for a series of flu considerably more serious.
Last year’s flu season was the mildest on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with fewer than 3,000 documented cases from September 2020 through May 2021. However, a variety of factors helped make almost non-existent flu cases last year may contribute to a resurgence this winter – and with COVID cases reaching levels not seen since early January, the potential is there for what health officials are calling a ‘twinemia’ .
â€œEach year the flu will generally push hospital systems within their capabilities,â€ said Dr. Christopher Belcher, medical director of infection prevention at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis. â€œEach year it happens, to different degrees – there are definitely better (years) than others – but when you start adding this type of disease on top of what we’re seeing with the coronavirus, it’s okay. just pushing the health systems all the more, and it will be harder to keep things running.
Belcher said that in a typical year, between 8,000 and 40,000 people die from various strains of the flu. Projecting the severity of an outbreak is difficult regardless of the year, according to health experts, but the presence of COVID makes this task even more difficult. Mitigation measures such as masks, social distancing and increased handwashing may have helped reduce flu cases last year, but these measures have also protected many people from exposure. influenza, which is generally considered to help build immunity against it.
â€œIn 2020, we’ve had such a light year of breathing that we have these populations that are vulnerable and haven’t seen these viruses,â€ Belcher said. â€œNow they are moving around and taking advantage of it. “
Many local schools returned to in-person classroom instruction at the start of the school year and are committed to maintaining this environment. These decisions are also seen as factors in increasing the possibility of exposure, according to Dr. Thomas Short, MD of emergency medicine at Anderson Community Hospital. He added that safeguards against COVID should provide a protective measure against the flu.
â€œSince influenza and COVID share routes of transmission, concerns and precautions for one will help reduce the risk for the other,â€ Short said.
Additional apprehension arises as states are relaxing mask mandates and social gatherings are becoming more common.
“I have concerns as flu season approaches, as the flu and COVID have similar symptoms,” said Stephenie Mellinger, administrator of the Madison County Department of Health. â€œIt’s too early to tell if this year’s flu will be a mild, moderate or more severe strain. Even a moderate flu can tax hospitals, and we are in an era when hospitals are nearing maximum capacity.
Many people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are now considering booster shots, which a CDC advisory committee discussed the recommendation for this fall. The agency recently reversed course on its guidelines suggesting that people wait at least 14 days between their second COVID vaccine and a booster. But experts warn immunocompromised patients should see their doctors before being given a booster.
â€œThere have been so many of these vaccines donated now that we have the experience of saying that it can be given regardless of the schedule of any other vaccine,â€ Belcher said. “There are no other waiting periods or anything – get it when you can get it.”
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