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Flu: an uncertain winter alongside covid

No one knows for sure how the flu will behave this winter, but it could be special. We have had two years without flu seasons like the ones before because of the hygiene and control measures that were taken during the covid pandemic and that made the flu practically an anecdote.

Flu: an uncertain winter alongside covid

Flu vaccine. EFE/Matthias Hiekel

The truth is that the last report of the National Epidemiological Surveillance Network tells us that the increase in the incidence of flu in Primary Care persists and the incidence of covid-19 is increasing slightly.

The same source alludes to a covid-19 hospitalization rate of 1.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, decreasing compared to the previous week, as well as a minimal increase in the flu hospitalization rate.

The highest rates of flu in hospitals throughout the season have been seen in the 80 and over age group.

In the light of these and other data and what has happened this winter in the southern hemisphere (summer in Spain), Ignacio López-Goñi, professor of Microbiology at the University of Navarra points out EFEsalut: “We will probably face an uncertain winter”.

“And you don’t have to lose sight – he adds – that the The covid-19 virus continues to evolve and in some countries the incidence is increasing. To this must be added other respiratory viruses that have decreased in previous years due to measures against the pandemic”, such as hand hygiene, use of masks, reduced travel and less social life.

The specialist recalls that in Spain, before the pandemic, usually between 30-40% of respiratory infection cases were due to the respiratory syncytial virus, and its peak incidence was usually in the month of December.

Besides, seasonal flu epidemics usually affect 10-20% of the population each year, with the peak between January and February.

Along with what the Surveillance Network is telling us, what happened this winter in the southern hemisphere can also serve as a clue.

Thus, López-Goñi, in countries such as Australia, Argentina or Chile, the flu epidemic has advanced several weeks, but it does not seem to have been a particularly more serious season.

In Australia it has affected more children under the age of five and the circulating subtypes have been A(H3) and A(H1).

After two years without a “normal” flu season, the most logical would be that this winter there were more cases of flu than the previous seasonbecause we have removed all measures against covid-19.

flu and covid

Flu and covid-19 antibodies

Also, points out the microbiologist, it must be taken into account that there are more people susceptible to the virus, because they have not received the vaccine from previous campaigns, and the antibodies against the flu also decrease over time, just as it happens with covid- 19.

“Too there are doubts about how much this year’s flu vaccine will protect against the strains that are circulating, and worries about what the next respiratory syncytial virus epidemic will be like, the first cause of bronchiolitis in young children”.

The specialist recommends that if flu symptoms appear, the best thing to do is to isolate yourself, and not go to school or work.

He also considers it highly recommended to use the mask to avoid, above all, transmitting the virus to the most vulnerable.

The use of masks

Regarding the mandatory use of masks, López-Goñi explains that he, personally, does not like the mandatory measures, and considers that time has been wasted by not carrying out an information campaign these months ago to raise awareness of how these viruses are transmitted, and the convenience of hygiene and masks.

“But at the moment it’s difficult to explain why it’s mandatory to wear a mask on the bus and the subway and not in the theater… and it’s difficult because it’s incongruous.”

Neither, he points out, has the task been done with the quality of the air in the buildings.

Finally, the professor of Microbiology at the University of Navarra warns that viruses continue to evolve… “and even if it sounds harsh, covid-19 is not the worst thing that could have happened to us, it was a very transmissible virus, but with a lower lethality than its cousins, SARS 1 and MERS, so it is necessary to remain alert and vigilant”.

Flu symptoms

The most common symptoms of the flu are fever, dry cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose.

Every year, millions of people get the flu. Most recover within a week, but for some the flu can be life-threatening.

Seasonal flu epidemics usually happen in late fall and winter.

In tropical regions, flu can happen year-round, causing more irregular outbreaks, but prevention is still important.

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